Haiti’s already fragile government faces a serious new crisis after one of the island nation’s increasingly brazen criminal gangs kidnapped a large US and Canadian missionary group.
There has been little official reaction in Haiti, and local police did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
But civil groups called Sunday for the immediate release of the group of 17 missionaries, family members and staff abducted a day earlier while returning from an orphanage visit.
“We call for the liberation of the persons kidnapped, whether American citizens or of other nationalities,” said Gedeon Jean, director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, based in the capital Port-au-Prince. He said the current situation was “detrimental to human dignity.”
The missionary group, including children and one Canadian, was traveling in several vehicles when stopped by members of a criminal gang some 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of the capital, a Haitian security source told AFP.
One member of the group posted a desperate call for help in a WhatsApp group even as the attack unfolded, The Washington Post reported. “Please pray for us!!” the message read.
“We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don’t know where they are taking us.”
The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said the group of 16 US citizens and one Canadian included five men, seven women and five children.
“Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers, and the families, friends, and churches of those affected,” the group said in a statement. “Pray for those who are seeking God’s direction and making decisions regarding this matter.”
The abduction was the work of the so-called “400 Mawozo” gang, which for months has carried out kidnappings and robberies in the area between Port-au-Prince and the Dominican Republic border, said a Haitian security source, who spoke on grounds of anonymity.
The gang has hijacked several vehicles — even entire busloads of victims — on roads it controls, kidnapping both Haitians and foreigners and holding them for ransoms often many times a Haitian’s yearly earnings.
Such armed gangs have been steadily extending their reach, taking advantage of spreading insecurity and a political crisis aggravated by the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moise.—AFP