A group of 17 missionaries and family members, most of whom are American, are believed to have been kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday.
The missionaries, who had been on a site visit to an orphanage, were stopped by a gang on their way to the airport to drop off some members, according to the The Washington Post.
The group is believed to be a part of the Christian Aid Ministries, which sent out a “prayer alert” to members to pray for the missing missionaries that includes “men, women and children” who are being held by an armed gang, the report says.
“The mission field director and the American embassy are working to see what can be done,” the alert states. “Pray that the gang members will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.”
Fourteen adults and three minors are among the missing, CNN reported. The group includes 16 Americans and one Canadian citizen, according to Gédéon Jean, director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince.
The missionaries were reportedly abducted by 400 Mawozo, a gang that is well-known for targeting religious groups. In April, the gang kidnapped five priests and two nuns. “The modus operandi is they take entire car and buses,” Jean told the Washington Post. “Then they ask for a price to release everybody.”
An unnamed source told the paper that one of the missionaries had posted a call for help in a WhatsApp group. “Please pray for us!! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don’t know where they are taking us,” the message read.
The U.S. State Department did not confirm that U.S. citizens were targeted in the incident but did confirm it was aware of the report, saying “the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” though it had “nothing additional to offer at this time.”
Haiti suffers from the highest per-capita kidnapping rate of any country. Recorded kidnappings have surged sixfold over last year when there were 88 kidnappings in the first six months of the year. During that same period this year, there were at least 395 kidnappings, a pace which shows no sign of slowing as the country suffers the fallout from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that occurred over the summer.