Haiti gang seeks $ 1 million each for kidnapped American missionaries | Ohio News




By DÁNICA COTO, PETER SMITH and PIERRE-RICHARD LUXAMA, Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – A gang that kidnapped 17 members of a United States-based missionary group demanded $ 1 million in ransom per person, although authorities did not say whether this amount included the five detained children, a senior Haitian official said on Tuesday.

The official, who was not authorized to speak to the press, told The Associated Press that someone from the 400 Mawozo gang requested it on Saturday during a call to a ministerial group leader soon after. pick up.

A person in contact with the organization, Christian Aid Ministries, has confirmed the request for $ 1 million per person, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. This person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Adults are 18 to 48 years old, children 8 months to 15 years old, according to a statement from the organization on Tuesday. Sixteen of those abducted are Americans and one Canadian.

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“This group of workers are committed to ministry throughout poverty-stricken Haiti,” the Ohio-based ministry said, adding that missionaries recently worked on a project to help rebuild homes. lost in the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck on August 1. 14.

The group was returning from a visit to an orphanage when it was abducted, the organization said.

In response to the recent wave of kidnappings, workers staged a protest strike that shut down businesses, schools and public transport from Monday. The work stoppage was yet another blow to Haiti’s anemic economy. Unions and other groups have vowed to continue the shutdown indefinitely.

During a peaceful demonstration Tuesday north of Port-au-Prince, dozens of people marched through the streets of Titanyen to demand the release of the missionaries. Some carried signs saying “Free the Americans” and “No to kidnappings!” “

“They built our schools. They pay our bills, ”said Zachary Celus. “They do everything for us. So now we can’t do anything because they kidnapped them.

Meanwhile, a persistent fuel shortage has worsened and companies have accused gangs of blocking roads and gas distribution terminals.

Hundreds of motorcycles raced through the streets of Port-au-Prince as the drivers shouted: “If there is no fuel, we will burn everything!”

A demonstration took place near the Prime Minister’s residence, where police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd demanding fuel.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the FBI was “part of a coordinated US government effort” to free the missionaries. The American Embassy in Port-au-Prince was coordinating with local authorities and the families of the hostages.

“We know these groups are targeting American citizens who they believe have the resources and finances to pay ransoms, even if they don’t,” she added, noting that the government urged citizens not to go to Haiti.

It has long been a US policy not to negotiate with hostage takers, and Psaki has declined to discuss the details of the operation.

The kidnapping was the largest of its kind reported in recent years. Haitian gangs have become more brazen as the country tries to recover from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 and the earthquake that left more than 2,200 dead.

Jean-Louis Abaki, a motorcycle taxi driver who joined the strike on Monday, urged authorities in the poorest country in the western hemisphere to act. He said that if Prime Minister Ariel Henry and National Police Chief Leon Charles want to stay in power, “they must give the people a chance for security.”

At least 328 kidnappings were reported to the Haitian National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared to a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report released last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.

Gangs have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police, bus passengers and others. Ransom demands range from a few hundred dollars to millions.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said US officials were in constant contact with Haiti’s national police, the mission group and relatives of the hostages.

“This is something that we have been dealing with with the highest priority since Saturday,” he said, adding that officials were “doing everything we can to find a quick solution to this problem.”

Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group included six women, six men and five children. A sign on the door to the organization’s headquarters in Berlin, Ohio said it was closed due to the kidnapping situation.

Word of the kidnappings quickly spread in and around Holmes County, Ohio, the hub of one of the largest populations of conservative Amish and Mennonites in the United States, said Marcus Yoder, executive director of the ‘Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in nearby Millersburg, Ohio.

Christian Aid Ministries is supported by conservative Mennonite, Amish and related groups who are part of the Anabaptist tradition.

The organization was founded in the early 1980s and began working in Haiti later in the decade, said Steven Nolt, professor of history and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. The group has year-round mission staff in Haiti and several countries, he said, and it ships religious, school and medical supplies around the world.

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Smith from Pittsburgh and Luxama from Titanyen, Haiti. Associated Press reporters Matías Delacroix in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Matthew Lee in Washington, John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, and Julie Carr Smyth in Berlin, Ohio, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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