An infamous and powerful Haitian gang, known as the 400 Mawozo, is believed to be responsible for the Sunday abduction of 17 missionaries of the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. The victims, 16 Americans, and one Canadian include five children. One of the children is only two years old.

The missionaries were abducted in the town of Ganthier east of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Saturday, after leaving an orphanage in the area, Haitian police told the media.

The gang is expected to demand a one-million-dollars ransom for each victim.

The gang was also blamed for kidnapping five priests and two nuns in April of this year. In that case, they had demanded a one-million-dollars ransom for each. The priests and nuns were released after negotiations, although it is unclear whether any ransom was paid.

The gang, whose name roughly translates from Creole to 400 “inexperienced men,” controls the Croix-des-Bouquets area that includes Ganthier. There, they have carried out an increasing number of kidnappings and carjackings while extorting local business owners, according to authorities.

kidnapped missionaries Haiti
The orphanage in Haiti where American missionaries visited before being kidnapped. (AP)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the FBI and State Department are working toward the release of the hostages. President Biden has been briefed and is receiving regular updates, Psaki added.

“The FBI is part of a coordinated U.S. government effort to get the U.S. citizens involved to safety,” Psaki said during a press conference. “We are not going to go into too much detail on that but can confirm their engagement.”

“Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers and the families, friends, and churches of those affected,” Christian Aid Ministries said in a released statement, adding that the group consists of five men, seven women, and five children. “As an organization, we commit this situation to God and trust him to see us through.”


Gang Influence Is Spreading

Normally aid workers such as the group from Christian Aid Ministries are given safe passage from local gangs to aid the locals in the gang-controlled areas. Christian Aid Ministries volunteers include Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative and Baptist denominations. They work in Haiti as part of the organization’s global mission “to minister to physical and spiritual needs,” according to a statement from Christian Aid Ministries.

The 400 Mawozo gang is believed to only number about 150 members but has steadily grown in power. At first, involved mainly in car thefts, they have since branched out their criminal activities into kidnapping large groups of people from cars and buses. In September the gang kidnapped several truck drivers from the Dominican Republic. They continue to hold the trucksters for ransom. 

Haitian police issued a wanted poster for the leader of the 400 Mawozo, Wilson Joseph, on charges including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, auto theft, and the hijacking of trucks. Wilson Joseph goes by the nom de guerre “Lanmò Sanjou,” which translates to “death doesn’t know which day it’s coming.”

Christian Aid Miistries missionaries prepare food
Christian Aid Ministries workers prepare food. Seventeen members of the group were kidnapped in Haiti. (AP)

At least 328 kidnappings have been reported to Haiti’s National Police during the first eight months of 2021 compared to a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report released last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.

Haiti has been beset by problems. Gang crime is rising, and the government keeps losing control in gang-controlled areas.

In July, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his home. Later in August, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake killed more than 2,200 people, destroyed more than 130,000 homes, and devastated infrastructure, including major roads. Just a few days later, tropical storm Grace hit the impoverished country dumping about 10 inches of rain and causing widespread flooding.