PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A gang that kidnapped 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group is demanding $1 million ransom per person, although authorities are not clear whether that includes the five children being held, a top Haitian official told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The official, who wasn't authorized to speak to the press, said someone from the 400 Mawozo gang called a ministry leader shortly after kidnapping the missionaries on Saturday and demanded the ransom. A person in contact with the organization, Christian Aid Ministries, also confirmed the $1 million per person demand, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. That source spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
The ages of the adults being held captive range from 18 to 48, while the children are 8 months, 3 years, 6 years, 13 years and 15 years, according to a statement from the organization on Tuesday. Sixteen of the abductees are Americans and one Canadian.
"This group of workers has been committed to minister throughout poverty-stricken Haiti,” the Ohio-based ministry said, adding that the missionaries were most recently working on a rebuilding project to help those who lost their homes in the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck on Aug. 14.
The group was returning from visiting an orphanage when they were abducted, the organization said.
A recent wave of kidnappings prompted a protest strike that shuttered businesses, schools and public transportation starting Monday in a new blow to Haiti's anemic economy. Unions and other groups vowed to continue the shutdown indefinitely.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that “the FBI is a part of a coordinated U.S. government effort to get the U.S. citizens involved to safety,” with the American Embassy in Port au Prince coordinating with local officials and families of those seized.
“Kidnapping is widespread and victims regularly include US citizens. We know these groups target U.S. citizens who they assume have the resources and finances to pay ransoms, even if that is not the case,” she added, noting that the government has urged citizens not to visit Haiti.