At least 17 Christian missionaries working for the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries were taken captive on Saturday by members of a gang in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince. The victims were abducted from a bus en route to the airport to drop off some group members before continuing to another destination in Haiti, according to the report, which quotes Haitian officials.
The group is said to have been returning from a routine orphanage visit when armed gang members stopped their bus and abducted all seventeen members. The group of sixteen US citizens and one Canadian citizen includes five men, seven women, and five children, including a two-year-old. The abduction took place in Gantheria, a region believed to be prime territory for the 400 Mawozo gangs.
The gang, whose name roughly translates to 400 “inexperienced men”, are widely infamous for their killings and kidnappings. Police say the gang also controls Croix-des-Bouquets, including Ganthier, where it extorts business owners and commits carjackings. A wanted poster was published nearly one year ago by Haitian police identifying 400 Mawozo's alleged leader, Wilson Joseph, on criminal charges including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, car theft, and hijacking. They were also responsible for the abduction of five priests and two nuns earlier this year.
Despite the lack of any word from US officials at the Haitian embassy, the US State Department reassured that it was their topmost priority to ensure the safety of US citizens abroad. The US, Canadian and Haitian governments are working together to rescue the abducted missionaries, it added. The kidnapping of the missionaries comes just a few days later after the US government promised to provide the Haitian National Police with $15 million financial support to help in restoring order and stability within the society. The FBI has also been involved to trace the whereabouts of the victims.
Already the poorest nation in the world, Haiti has become a living hell for its inhabitants. The assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July and a devastating earthquake in August that killed over 2000 people have resulted in the violence spiralling out of control. Armed gangs have taken advantage of the political crisis that has been brewing over the tiny nation. The country’s top diplomat has reached out to the UN Security Council for help in dealing with gang violence and crimes.
The spike in cases of abduction has instilled a sense of fear and insecurity amongst the inhabitants of Haiti. Residents often take a detour around certain gang-controlled areas while others choose to stay at home not risking the chance to get hurt. This has resulted in the rise of unemployment and poverty rates of a nation that is already gripped by poverty.
According to data compiled by the United Nations, 328 abductions have been reported in the first eight months of 2021, which is higher than a total of 234 for all of 2020. Generally, victims are members of the Haitian middle class - teachers, priests, civil servants, small business owners - who can barely scrape together a ransom that is usually demanded by the gangs. They have been accused of kidnapping school children, doctors, and even law enforcement officials. They have lately been targeting busloads of passengers to show how powerful and ruthless they are.
This kind of climate gives opportunities for anyone to do whatever they want because it’s easy now,” Emmanuela Douyon, founder and executive director of Police, a think tank, told Al Jazeera. She also believes that Haiti has fallen into a state of total anarchy where people have all the freedom to do anything against anyone without facing any consequences. This freedom has terrorized the lives of thousands of Haitians who now live in refugee shelters after being forced to flee their homes. To address the lack of security in the nation, a protest is scheduled for Monday.
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