Haitian police believe that the notorious “400 Mawozo” gang was involved in kidnapping 17 Christian missionaries on Saturday, the Associated Press reported.
The “400 Mawozo” gang, which earlier this year was involved in kidnapping two nuns and five priests, is suspected of abducting 17 people working for the charity Christian Aid Ministries in Port-au-Prince suburbs.
The missionary group said in a statement on Sunday that the 17 people included 16 Americans and one Canadian — seven women, five men and five children.
“400 Mawozo,” which the AP notes translates approximately to "400 inexperienced men,” is considered one of the most dangerous gangs in Haiti, The New York Times reported. The group is among a new crop of gangs that known for abducting priests during their sermons, raping women and pressuring young children to injure hostages, the newspaper noted.
The Times noted that gangs have been prevalent in Haiti for 20 years, though older gangs’ activities were associated with more political purposes, including voter suppression.
The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti noted that national police received 234 reports of people being kidnapped in 2020The while at least 328 people had been kidnapped between January and August 2021, according to the AP.
The 17 missionaries were abducted on Saturday on their way home from working at an orphanage, the AP reported.
Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement they were requesting an urgent prayer for the 17 people who were taken hostage over the weekend.
“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 charity said on Sunday.
The State Department has acknowledged they were aware of the reports regarding the kidnapped missionaries.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the State department said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “We are aware of these reports and have nothing additional to offer at this time.”