What to Know
- FBI agents landed in Haiti Sunday to assist the State Department in securing the release of 17 missing Christian missionaries
- The 400 Mawozo is a notorious gang known for brazen killings, ransom kidnappings and extorting businessmen
- The violent gang was also accused in the kidnapping of five priests and two nuns earlier this year
A group of 17 missionaries, 16 American citizens and one Canadian, were kidnapped Saturday in Haiti and are now being held hostage for ransom, pushing the island nation to the forefront of yet another international crisis.
The Ohio-based organization Christian Aid Ministries said that its missionaries were returning home after visiting an orphanage when they were abducted in Ganthier, a commune just east of the nation’s capital city Port-au-Prince. Five of the kidnapped are children.
“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” the faith-based organization said in a statement.
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A source close to the administration confirmed to NBC that a team of FBI agents landed in Haiti Sunday to assist the State Department in securing the release of the Christian missionaries.
The U.S. Department of State confirmed the kidnapping and said they were in “regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and interagency partners.”
Although the current location of the hostages and status of negotiations were unknown on Monday, both U.S. and Haitian officials believe the dangerous 400 Mawozo gang is responsible for the abduction.
What is the 400 Mawozo gang and who are they?
The 400 Mawozo, whose name roughly translates to "inexperienced men,” is a notorious gang known on the Caribbean island for brazen killings, ransom kidnappings and extorting businessmen.
Many Haitian gangs, but primarily the 400 Mawozo, capitalize on collective abductions, in which they abduct groups of people and then hold them hostage until demands for ransom are met.
The violent group controls the Croix-des-Bouquets area, including Ganthier, where the missionaries were abducted and where many other kidnappings and carjackings have occured.
The 400 Mawozo was also blamed for the April kidnapping of five priests and two nuns, who were taken at gunpoint near the same area where the Christian missionaries were abducted. The gang then demanded a $1 million ransom for the release of hostages, a local news agency reported.
All the hostages were eventually released, but it is unclear if the $1 million ransom payment was made to the gang.
Kidnappings for ransom are on the rise
In the first nine months of 2021, nearly 630 kidnappings, including those of 29 foreign nationals, were recorded on the impoverished island, according to a new report by the Haitian nonprofit Human Rights Analysis and Research Center or CARDH.
Gang-related kidnapping, torture, rape, and other crimes are spiking in Haiti as the gangs use violence to funnel money into their groups.
On average, the gang demands around $20,000 for the release of each hostage, according to reports.
The CARDH also reported a nearly 300 percent increase in kidnappings from July to September in 2021. The organization recorded 31 kidnappings in July, 73 in August, and 117 in September.
“These figures indicate how much kidnapping is on the rise,” the report said.
The spike in criminal activity comes after a series of tragic events on the island, including a devastating earthquake that killed thousands and the "highly coordinated" assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July.