An armed gang in Haiti abducted 17 Christian missionaries and their family members, including children, as they were leaving an orphanage, according to a former field director for the group, Christian Aid Ministries.
An audio alert seeking prayers, sent by the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, says “men, women and children” connected with the group are being held by an armed gang near Port-au-Prince, The Washington Post reported.
“The mission field director and the American embassy are working to see what can be done,” the voice on the recording states. “Pray that the gang members will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.”
The Christians were abducted Saturday from their vehicle as they were traveling to Titanyen after visiting an orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area, said CNN, which said three minors are among those abducted, according to Haiti's security forces.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson was quoted as saying. “We are aware of these reports and have nothing additional to offer at this time.”
The incident occurred the day after the U.N. Security Council extended its mission in the Caribbean nation by nine months in a unanimous vote, The New York Times noted.
In April, police in Haiti reportedly fired tear gas at dozens who were participating in a “Mass for the freedom of Haiti” at the Church of St. Peter in Pétion-Ville, a suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince, led by Catholic bishops as part of a national protest against the kidnapping of five Catholic priests, two nuns and three laypeople in the previous months.
The impoverished nation is struggling in the social and political aftermath of the assassination of President Jouvenal Moïse in July, and Haitians have been urging the United States to send troops to stabilize the situation.
The Biden administration declined the request of Haiti’s Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph for troops, saying the U.S. would only send security officials to assess the situation, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time.
The interim leadership of Joseph, who was an ally of the late president, was being challenged by some Haitian politicians. He took charge after the killing of Moïse, which occurred the day after the president appointed a new prime minister, neurosurgeon Ariel Henry. President Moïse was also accused of corruption, having ties to criminal gangs, and overstaying his tenure.
Haiti has seen an increase in crime since last year.
The U.N.'s Integrated Office in Haiti stated in a February report that there were 234 kidnappings in the previous 12 months, an increase of 200% from the previous year.
Authorities in Haiti reported 1,380 killings in 2020.
According to the watchdog group Fondasyon Je Klere, over 150 gangs operate in Haiti.
At least 628 kidnappings have been reported in Haiti since January, of which 29 are foreigners, CNN said, citing data released this month by the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, a nonprofit based in Port-au-Prince.
An earthquake in August killed over 2,000 people in Haiti.