Haiti Kidnappers Demand $1m for Each U.S. Hostage, Including 8-Month Baby

The Haitian gang who abducted a group of 17 American and Canadian missionaries on Saturday is demanding $1 million each for their release, the country's justice minister said on Monday.

The minister, Liszt Quitel, said that the FBI and Haitian police were speaking with the kidnappers and seeking for the release of the missionaries, the Wall Street Journal reported. The group—comprising five men, seven women and five children—were returning from a visit from an orphanage in the capital of Port-au-Prince when they were abducted by armed men on Saturday.

Among the abducted are an 8-month-old baby as well as four children aged 3, 6, 14 and 15 years old, Quitel said.

The kidnappers want $1 million per person released, amounting to $17 million for all of the captives, added the Haitian minister.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden had been briefed, and the FBI will help Haitian authorities investigate the kidnapping and try to negotiate a release.

Quitel warned that the negotiations could take weeks.

"We are trying to get them released without paying any ransom," he said. "This is the first course of action. Let's be honest: When we give them that money, that money is going to be used for more guns and more munitions."

Haitian officials said that the notorious 400 Mawozo gang is behind the kidnapping of the missionaries. They were also blamed for the abduction of members of the Catholic clergy in April. Quitel said that the government would like to negotiate a similar outcome this time as it did for the kidnapping in April, where ransom was paid for two priests. There were five priests, two nuns and three of their relatives kidnapped.

400 Mawozo has been expanding for the past three years. It now has up to 150 members, and has essentially taken control of Port-au-Prince suburb Croix-des-Bouquets, a Haitian security source told CNN on Sunday.

The missionaries, members of the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, are held in a safe house right outside Croix-des-Bouquets.

Christian Aid Ministries issued a statement on its website on Sunday, saying that it has handed the matter over to God.

"We are seeking God's direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help," the statement said.

"The group of sixteen U.S citizens and one Canadian citizen includes 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. Pray for those who are seeking God's direction and making decisions regarding this matter.

"As an organization, we commit this situation to God and trust Him to see us through," the statement said.

The organization had to halt mission work in Haiti for nine months in 2019 due to gang violence, but resumed work in 2020.

The Caribbean island nation of around 11 million people has one of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world.

According to the Port-au-Prince-based Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights, from January to September this year, there were 628 people reported abducted, including 29 foreigners. That compares to 231 kidnapped in the same period in 2020. The true numbers are likely to be much higher because many Haitians don't report abductions, because they fear retribution from gangs.

Since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July and a deadly earthquake in August, the country has descended into chaos and the police force has been weakened as different militant groups struggle for power.

Haitian Minister of Justice and Public Security,
Haitian Minister of Justice and Public Security, Liszt Quitel, speaks during an event at the Ministry of Justice in Port-au-Prince on September 16, 2021. The minister said the Haitian gang that abducted a group of 17 American and Canadian missionaries on Saturday is demanding $17 million for their release. Richard Pierrin/Getty