A Haitian gang reportedly behind the kidnapping of 17 missionaries from the United States and Canada is expected to demand $1 million or more for each hostage, according to The New York Times.
The "400 Mawozo" gang has demanded more than $1 million in previous abductions. The gang’s alleged leader, Wilson Joseph, is wanted in Haiti for murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and hijacking.
Gèdèon Jean, executive director of the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights, told the Times that the motive behind the surge in kidnappings "is a financial one."
"The gangs need money to buy ammunition, to get weapons, to be able to function," he said.
"The 400 Mawozo gang don’t want to kill the hostages … They are going to be freed — that’s for sure. We don’t know in how many days, but they’re going to negotiate."
Haiti-based consultant Timothy Schwartz told the Times that the gang demanded $1 million for the five priests and two nuns kidnapped earlier this year, and while it’s unknown if that amount was paid, the hostages were eventually released.
"That was the big sign they can do what they want," Schwartz said. "Now they’re taking the next step with the Americans."
He went on to question why the missionaries were in the area of Port-au-Prince in the first place, noting that the State Department has issued a level-4 "Do Not Travel" advisory for Haiti.
The part of the city where they were abducted "is a no-go zone these days," he said.
The State Department said in a statement on Sunday that it remains in contact with senior authorities in Haiti, and will keep working with those officials and its agency partners,
"The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State," the department said.
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