Efforts to win the return of 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group and a local driver stretched into a fourth day Wednesday, with a violent gang demanding $1 million ransom per person.
The group seized includes five children aged from 8 months to 15 years, although authorities were not clear whether the ransom demand included them, a top Haitian official said Tuesday. Sixteen of the abductees are Americans and one Canadian.
The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said it would hold a day of fasting and prayer for its missionaries Thursday.
“We, along with government authorities, continue to work hard to bring them home safely,” the group said. “This time of difficulty reminds us of the ongoing suffering of millions of Haitians. While our workers chose to serve in Haiti, our Haitian friends endure crisis after crisis, continual violence, and economic hardship.”
The FBI and other U.S. agencies were “part of a coordinated U.S. government effort” to free the missionaries, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, though officials from Haiti, the U.S. and the church group involved were silent about sensitive details.
A wave of kidnappings has added to the other miseries besetting the Caribbean nation. At least 119 people were kidnapped in Haiti for the first half of October, according to the Center of Analysis and Research of Human Rights, a local nonprofit group.
The rash of kidnappings led to a strike Monday that shuttered businesses, schools and public transportation — a new blow to Haiti’s anemic economy.
Life was largely back to normal on Wednesday, but unions and other groups vowed to organize another strike next week, and sporadic protests erupted Wednesday in Port-au-Prince over the lack of fuel, with gangs blamed for blocking gas distribution terminals.
The kidnapping was the largest of its kind reported in recent years. Haitian gangs have grown more brazen as the country tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people.
Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group included six women, six men and five children. A sign on the door at the organization’s headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, said it was closed due to the kidnapping situation.