The Haitian gang that abducted 17 mostly American missionaries is expected to demand at least $1 million per hostage — and has been known to kill those who have not paid, according to reports.
The notorious “400 Mawozo” gang was quickly blamed for Saturday’s abduction of 16 Americans and one Canadian from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries as they visited an orphanage.
Those kidnapped included seven women and five kids aged as young as two, said the missionary group, which defied official US warnings not to travel to the troubled nation amid kidnapping concerns.
The “400 Mawozo” gang is blamed for a rocketing number of kidnappings in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation amid political upheaval after President Jovenel Moïse was executed earlier this year.
The gang is known to have demanded ransoms of more than $1 million — as well as killing some of those they have abducted, authorities told The Associated Press. They have also been accused of raping women.
Nearly a year ago, Haitian police issued a wanted poster for the alleged leader, Wilson Joseph, for murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and hijacking trucks.
He is known locally as “Lanmò Sanjou” — meaning “death doesn’t know which day it’s coming.”
Gèdèon Jean, executive director of the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights, predicted 400 Mawozo will ask for at least $1 million for each of the 17 hostages — but believes they will eventually be freed.
“The motive behind the surge in kidnappings for us is a financial one,” Jean told The New York Times. “The gangs need money to buy ammunition, to get weapons, to be able to function,” he said.
“The 400 Mawozo gang don’t want to kill the hostages … They are going to be freed — that’s for sure,” he predicted. “We don’t know in how many days, but they’re going to negotiate.”
The gang demanded $1 million ransom when five priests and two nuns were kidnapped in Haiti this year. It was not clear if the ransom was paid, but all of them were eventually freed.
“That was the big sign they can do what they want,” Timothy Schwartz, a Haiti-based consultant, told The New York Times.
“Now they’re taking the next step with the Americans,” he said.
But “what in the hell were they doing out there?” he asked of the missionary group that had just returned to Haiti despite a level-4 “Do Not Travel” advisory from the State Department.
“That place is a no-go zone these days,” he told the Times of the area in Port-au-Prince where they were snatched.
Former Haitian missionary Joel Trimble also told the Times it was “very unwise” for “that many white American missionaries” to have been there.
“Kidnapping is quick money, and when they see a van full of white people, that is major dollar signs,” he said.
At least 328 kidnappings were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, said a report last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.
Christian Aid Ministries said its American staffers had only recently returned to their base in Haiti after a nine-month absence “due to political unrest.”
“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” the missionary group said.
“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.”
The US State Department said Sunday that it was in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and would continue to work with them and interagency partners.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the agency said in a statement.
With Post wires
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