A Haitian gang is demanding $17 million to release 17 abducted U.S. and Canadian nationals they kidnapped on Saturday, Oct. 16 in Haiti.
The gang captured the missionaries using heavy firearms as they traveled by bus to an airport in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The missionaries are associated with an Ohio-based Christian organization.
Sixteen of the group were from the United States, and one was Canadian. Among them were five children ranging from 18 months to 15 years old and seven women and five men.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the gang named 400 Mawozo is demanding $1 million for each individual they captured, hence the total of $17 million in ransom.
Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel told CNN the missionaries are being kept in a suburb of the capital.
The outlet noted FBI agents have arrived in Haiti to investigate the case but are not involved in the negotiation with the gang, which is being led by Haiti police negotiators.
“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,” an FBI spokesperson told the news agency.
Quitel said officials have warned the gang of the consequences for causing harm to the hostages, “but they are not swayed by those warnings.”
The Justice Minister told WSJ that they were trying to avoid paying money to have the victims freed.
“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,” Quitel said.
Haiti officials revealed that the 400 Mawozo gang has only turned to mass kidnapping in recent months. The criminal group had abducted five priests and two nuns earlier this year, including two French nationals, and held them captive for three weeks before releasing them. It is unknown whether a ransom was paid.
Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July, kidnappings led by gangs have spiked significantly, especially those that target foreigners. Haitian officials said they would usually seek from hundreds to $1 million to release their victims.
The critically unstable and impoverished country is now partly controlled by gangs, ABC News reported.