Gang with past abductions blamed for kidnapping missionaries in Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A gang blamed for kidnapping five priests and two nuns earlier this year in Haiti is now accused of kidnapping 17 missionaries from a US-based organisation, including a two-year-old, police said Sunday.
The 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped the group — which also included some elderly people — in Ganthier, a commune that lies east of the capital of Port-au-Prince, Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne told The Associated Press.
The gang, whose name roughly translates to 400 “inexperienced men,” controls the Croix-des-Bouquets area that includes Ganthier, where they carry out kidnappings and carjackings and extort business owners, according to authorities.
Haiti is once again struggling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that had diminished in recent months, after President Jovenel Moïse was fatally shot at his private residence on July 7 and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake killed more than 2,200 people in August.
Nearly a year ago, Haitian police issued a wanted poster for the gang's alleged leader, Wilson Joseph, on charges including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, auto theft and the hijacking of trucks carrying goods. He goes by the nickname “Lanmò Sanjou,” which means “death doesn't know which day it's coming.”
Joseph, who could not be immediately reached for comment, has posted videos detailing the alleged crimes the gang has committed in recent years.
Once, when the gang opened fire on a small bus carrying several passengers and killed an infant, Wilson said it was not their fault because the bus driver refused to stop.
In a more recent video, he appears holding a bottle of alcohol surrounded by heavily armed men.
Another video from June shows people inside a church fleeing as gunfire erupted outside on a Saturday morning.
The gang was accused of raiding the area and setting cars on fire.
The missionaries were on their way home Saturday from building an orphanage, according to a message from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries sent to various religious missions.
“This is a special prayer alert,” the one-minute message said.
“Pray that the gang members would come to repentance.”
The message says the mission's field director is working with the US Embassy, and that the field director's family and one other unidentified man stayed at the ministry's base while everyone else visited the orphanage.
A US government spokesperson said officials were aware of the reports on the kidnapping.
“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the spokesperson said, declining to comment further.
Meanwhile, a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is in touch with Haitian authorities to try to resolve the case.
Gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $1 million, according to authorities.
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