Haiti kidnapping: 400 Mawozo gang behind abduction of 17 US and Canadian missionaries, security source says

As they were taking a trip from the orphanage towards Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, gang members stopped the automobile at gunpoint.

The 400 Mawozo gang has actually been growing in strength for the previous 3 years, numbering approximately 150 members, and has actually basically taken control of Croix des Bouquets, the source in Haiti’s security forces informed CNN on Sunday,

Kidnapping for ransom is a trademark activity of the gang. They have abducted lots of individuals this year alone, consisting of foreign nationals, the source stated.

When well-known for automobile theft, the 400 Mawozo has actually originated “collective” kidnappings of big groups of victims from buses and cars and trucks, according to the Center for Analysis and Research Study for Human Rights (CARDH), a Port-au-Prince-based not-for-profit.

A goat stands in the courtyard of the Maison La Providence de Dieu orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, on October 17.

Much of the increase in kidnappings in Haiti is because of the 400 Mawozo, according to CARDH. Gang members take part in near everyday fights with Haitian cops and even tax regional organizations.

In September, the gang abducted “several” truck motorists from the Dominican Republic, and continue to hold them captive amidst settlements for their release, the Haitian security force source stated.

Those continuous settlements are factoring into authorities’ choices about how to continue with the abducted American and Canadian missionaries, the source included.

According to CARDH, most of the gang’s victims are Haitian people and kidnappings have actually risen in Haiti this year — with an almost 300% boost considering that July.

A minimum of 628 kidnappings have actually occurred considering that January, including of 29 immigrants, according to information launched by the center. The 400 Mawozo has typically demanded ransoms of around $20,000, it said.

Gang activity in Haiti is so entrenched that even Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to backtrack on plans to lay a wreath for the Haitian Revolution leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines on Sunday — a national holiday commemorating his death — during a memorial in Pont Rouge, an area controlled by a coalition of gangs known as the G9.

“We wanted to go there,” a source close to the prime minister told CNN. “To avoid a bloodbath, we turned back.”

Investigation ongoing

The US State Department confirmed Monday that 16 US citizens were among the 17 individuals abducted.

“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We have been in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and inter-agency partners,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries released a statement on Sunday confirming the kidnapping of the missionaries and said the abducted group was made up of five men, seven women and five children.

“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” the statement said.

Dan Hooley, a former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti, told CNN on Sunday that all of the kidnapped missionaries are believed to have actually been in one vehicle, and that some were able to contact the organization’s local director before they were taken.

The kidnappers have also already made contact with the organization, he said.

“A couple of fellows right away messaged the director and told him what was going on. And one of them was able to drop a pin, and that’s the last thing (the organization) heard until the kidnappers contacted them later in the day,” Hooley said.

Haitian officials are in touch with the US State Department about the kidnapping, the country’s foreign minister, Claude Joseph, told CNN.

One of the abducted missionaries, an American citizen, also posted a call for help in a WhatsApp group as the kidnapping was occurring, The Washington Post reported, quoting a person familiar with the abduction who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Christian Aid Ministries in Berlin, Ohio is seen here on Sunday, October 17.

“Please pray for us!! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don’t know where they are taking us,” the message said.

It is unclear whether the message was a video or a text sent to the WhatsApp group, and there is no information on the WhatsApp group itself in the Washington Post’s reporting.

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of this message or the report.

According to a senior US official familiar with the situation, the FBI and State Department officials do not know the current location of the kidnapped missionaries.

Canadian officials are also working with local authorities and “implicated NGOs” to gather information, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada told CNN.

CNN has actually reached out to the Haitian Justice Ministry and the National Police but they have not yet commented.

Indiscriminate kidnappings

Former field director for Christian Aid Ministries Hooley stated the members of the group would have been aware of the risks they were taking.

“These are very dedicated people, people that have risked their lives, they knew the dangers that they were in, or at least were aware of what could happen, I’m sure,” he said.

Hooley added that he knew several of the victims personally. “Two of them are single fellas. One was down there for a while, the other one is a friend of ours who just flew in on Friday, and was planning to help out with the Haiti earthquake, the situation down there in the south.”

“And then there’s a young couple there — a young couple with two children that were also abducted. We lived with her (the mother) in Oregon, and knew her family very well,” Hooley said.

Kidnapping in Haiti is often indiscriminate, with both rich and poor citizens targeted. Several kidnapping victims and their families previously informed CNN that they were still working to pay off debts, after borrowing money from friends, employers and even banks to pay ransoms.

In a case that has become notorious across the country, a 5-year-old girl was reportedly found dead early this year with signs of strangulation. Her mother, a peanut vendor, told Reuters she had been unable to come up with the equivalent of $4,000 for ransom.

Just before the missionaries’ abduction, a Haitian transportation union had called for an indefinite strike starting Monday to protest the spike in kidnappings, amongst other issues.

“We call on the government to put an end to the kidnappings and provide us safety or for them to resign immediately. We are the most victims; the transportation sector is an easy target for kidnappers all over the country,” Méhu Changeux, president of the Association of Owners and Drivers of Haiti, told CNN on Sunday.

“We lost many members to the insecurity and dozens of members have been kidnapped. The latest tragedy of the kidnapping of the American missionaries shows no one is safe in this country,” Changeux stated.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long included to this report.