A powerful gang in Haiti is believed to be behind the abduction of a group of 17 missionaries, including 16 Americans and one Canadian.
A security force source confirmed to CNN that Haitian authorities believe the 400 Mawozo abducted the missionary group after they visited an orphanage on Saturday (October 16) in the northeastern suburb of Croix de Bouquets near Port-au-Prince.
The vehicle carrying the group from the orphanage towards Titanyen, north of the capital city, was stopped at gunpoint, the source said. The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministry confirmed the kidnapping in a statement on Sunday (October 17), stating the group is made up of five men, seven women, and five children."
"We are seeking God's direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help," the organization said in the statement.
The 400 Mawozo gang has reportedly grown in number and strength in the last three years, with an estimated 150 members taking over the Croix de Bouquets suburb and have "daily" run ins with Haitian police and tax local businesses, the source said.
The group, according to the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights (CARDH), was once known for vehicle theft but turned to carrying out group kidnappings for ransom and are responsible for the increase in frequency of kidnappings –– which has surged 300% since July.
This year alone, the group has held dozens of people, including 29 foreign nationals.
Authorities are reportedly working on negotiations, using a September incident involving the kidnapping of several truck drivers from the Dominican Republic to make decisions. The US State Department is also investigating the matter.
"The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We have been in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and inter-agency partners," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.
The gang has typically demanded $20,000 in prior kidnappings and has also already made contact with the Ministry.