Police on Sunday charged a notorious Haitian gang known for brazen kidnappings and murders of kidnapping 17 missionaries from a US-based outfit. Five children are also among those abducted.
The 400 Mavozo gang kidnapped the group in Ganthier, a community located east of the capital of Port-au-Prince, Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne told the Associated Press. The gang was blamed for the kidnapping of five priests and two nuns in Haiti earlier this year.
The gang, whose name roughly translates to 400 “inexperienced men”, controls the Croix-des-Bouquets region which includes Ganthier, where they commit kidnappings and carjackings and expel business owners, according to officials.
Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group included 16 US citizens and one Canadian, for a total of five children, seven women and five men. The organization said they were on a visit to an orphanage.
“Join us in praying for the families, friends and churches of the hostages, kidnappers and those affected,” Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement. “As an organization, we entrust this situation to God and trust Him to see us.”
In its annual report last year, the organization said US workers had returned to their base in Haiti after a nine-month absence “due to political unrest”. The report noted the “uncertainty and difficulties” arising from such volatility.
Haiti is once again struggling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that subsided in recent months, with President Jovenel Mose fatally shot at his private residence on July 7 and in August More than 2,200 people were killed in the 7.2-magnitude quake.
About a year ago, Haitian police issued a wanted poster for alleged gang leader Wilson Joseph on charges of murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, auto theft and hijacking of freight trucks. He goes by the nickname “Lanmo Sanjou”, which means “Death does not know what day it is coming.”
Joseph, who could not be immediately reached for comment, posted the video detailing the alleged crimes committed by the gang 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 his fault as the bus driver refused to stop. In a more recent video, he is seen holding a bottle of liquor while wielding heavy weapons. Another video from June showed people running inside a church as shots were fired outside on Saturday morning. The gang was accused of raiding the area and setting cars on fire.
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is in contact with Haitian authorities to try to resolve the matter.
Christian aid ministry came under public scrutiny in 2019, when one of the former activists of the Haiti-based group was convicted of felony sexual abuse against minors in Ohio. Jeria Mast, 40, is serving a nine-year sentence in an Ohio prison. During the hearing, the judge said Mast told her that he molested at least 30 boys in Haiti over about 15 years, according to The Daily Record newspaper in Ohio.
The religious organization said in a May 2020 statement that it had reached an out-of-court settlement with victims of sexual abuse in the Haitian community of Petit Gove and provided a total of $420,000 in compensation and other assistance to other victims. did.
According to officials, amid a rise in kidnappings, the gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from a few hundred dollars to a million dollars.
Last month, a deaf man was murdered and his wife kidnapped in front of a church in the capital of Port-au-Prince, one of dozens who have been kidnapped in recent months.
According to a report released last month by the United Nations Unified Office in Haiti, at least 328 kidnappings were reported to Haiti’s national police in the first eight months of 2021, compared to a total of 234 kidnappings in 2020.
The gang has been accused of kidnapping school children, doctors, police officers, busloads of passengers and others as they grow more powerful. In April, a man claiming to be the leader of a gang of 400 mawjo told a radio station that they were responsible for the kidnapping of five priests, two nuns and three relatives of a priest that month. They were later released.
A spike in kidnapping and gang-related violence has forced Haitians to circle around some gang-controlled areas, while others simply choose to stay home, which means Charles, a moto taxi driver in Port-au- There is little money for people like Pierre. Prince who has many children to feed.
“People are not coming out on the streets,” he said. “We can’t find people to transport.”
A protest is scheduled for Monday to address the lack of security in the country.
On Friday, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to expand the UN political mission to Haiti.
The kidnapping of the missionaries comes days after high-level US officials visited Haiti and promised more resources for Haiti’s national police, including another $15 million to help reduce gang violence. This year has displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in temporary shelters. increasingly unhygienic conditions.
Among those who met with Haiti’s police chief was Uzra Zeya, the US Under Secretary of State for Civil Defense, Democracy and Human Rights.
“Eliminating violent gangs is critical to Haitian stability and civil security,” he tweeted recently.