The Haitian gang behind the kidnapping of 17 American and Canadian missionaries said they want $1 million for the safe return of each person, adding up to $17 million in total. The Wall Street Journal reports Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said the FBI is working with Haitian police to reach the gang known as 400 Mawozo.
The group of missionaries was abducted last weekend in Port-au-Prince. At least five within the group are children. There’s a baby as young as 8 months old and older kids ranging from 3 to 15 years old. Five men and seven women were taken with the children. Quitel said that negotiations could take weeks.
“We are trying to get them released without paying any ransom,” said the justice minister. “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.”
President Biden has been informed of the development, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki revealed on Monday. The FBI is still proceeding in its investigation. According to CNN, the bureau has sent agents to Haiti to be on the ground, but the FBI is not leading the negotiations effort, nor has it been in contact with the kidnappers.
“The FBI is part of a coordinated U.S. government effort to get the Americans involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, no further information is available at this time,” said an FBI spokesperson, per CNN.
Kidnappers first spoke with staff at Christian Aid Ministries, which is an Ohio-based organization, on Saturday to share their demands. Since then, gang members have spoken with them a few more times.
“The gang has locations where they usually keep their hostages so that they can feel the hostages are safe. They feel comfortable keeping them there,” Quitel told CNN.
“The kidnappers have been warned about harming the hostages and what may be the consequences for them [if that were to happen]. But they are not swayed by those warnings,” he continued.
Before they were taken, the group was able to send a message to the organization’s local director in Haiti, a former field director for Christian Aid Ministries named Dan Hooley, according to CNN.
“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.
The abductions come during a string of kidnappings and an uptick in crimes following the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse. The country has begun experiencing a rise in civil unrest, lack of quality health care and poverty as it continues to recover from recent natural disasters.