Authorities in Haiti say that the gang behind most abductions in the Caribbean nation between June and September is also responsible for Saturday's kidnapping of 17 Christian missionaries.
Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne told The Associated Press that the 400 Mawazoo gang based in the Ganthier area east of the capital of Port-au-Prince abducted the 17 missionaries with the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, 16 of which are American and one Canadian.
"The group of sixteen U.S citizens and one Canadian citizen includes five men, seven women, and five children," the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement Sunday. "Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers, and the families, friends, and churches of those affected."
The Christians were abducted from their vehicle as they were traveling to Titanyen after visiting an orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area, CNN reported.
Local unions and other organizations were planning to launch a strike Monday to protest the country's worsening security situation, the AP said.
Wilson Joseph, who is believed to be the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, was the subject of a wanted-poster campaign launched by police last year. Joseph faces charges, including murder, kidnap, auto theft and hijacking trucks.
Wilson's nickname is "Lanmò Sanjou," which means "death doesn't know which day it's coming."
The gang was also blamed for kidnapping five priests and two nuns earlier this year.
The gang is responsible for 80% of abductions in the country between June and September, Gédéon Jean, director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince, told The Washington Post said.
"As an organization, we commit this situation to God and trust Him to see us through. May the Lord Jesus be magnified and many more people come to know His love and salvation," Christian Aid Ministries assured in a statement released Sunday, quoting Psalm 91.
"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust ... For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."
The group, founded in 1981 as a channel for "Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world," claims to have provided service to 14 million people in 133 countries in 2020.
The impoverished Caribbean nation needs international aid as it struggles in the social and political aftermath of the assassination of President Jouvenal Moïse in July. Haiti is yet to recover from a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people in August.
At least 628 kidnappings have been reported in Haiti since January, data released this month by the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights shows. Twenty-nine of those kidnapped have been foreigners.
The Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights reports that kidnappings have increased 300% between July and September, with over 221 kidnappings during that time.
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.
Haiti has seen an increase in crime since last year.
Authorities in Haiti reported 1,380 killings in 2020.
According to the watchdog group Fondasyon Je Klere, over 150 gangs operate in Haiti.
In April, protesters participated in a "Mass for the freedom of Haiti" at the Church of St. Peter in Pétion-Ville following the kidnapping of the five Catholic priests, two nuns and three laypeople.
Police reportedly fired tear gas at dozens participating in the mass as crowds overflowed into the streets.