A gang that kidnapped 17 members of a US-based missionary group has demanded a $US17 million ($A23 million) ransom for them, according to Haiti’s justice minister, as quoted by the Wall Street Journal.
Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said the gang was demanding $US1 million ($A1.3 million) per person.
Quitel did not immediately return messages for comment, but he also confirmed the figure to the New York Times. The Journal said he identified the ages of the abducted children as 8 months and 3, 6, 14 and 15 years.
A wave of kidnappings prompted a protest strike that shuttered businesses, schools and public transportation in a new blow to Haiti’s anemic economy, and unions and other groups vowed to continue the shutdown on Tuesday.
FBI agents and other US officials are helping Haitian authorities hunt for the 12 adults and five children linked to the Christian Aid Ministries in Ohio who were kidnapped on Saturday during a trip to visit an orphanage.
It is the largest reported kidnapping of its kind in recent years, with Haitian gangs growing more brazen and abductions spiking as the country tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck southern Haiti on August 14 and killed more than 2200 people.
At least 328 kidnappings were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, said a report last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.
Haitian police told The Associated Press that the abduction of the 16 Americans and one Canadian was carried out by the 400 Mawozo gang, a group with a long record of killings, kidnappings and extortion.
In April, a man who claimed to be the gang’s leader told a radio station that it was responsible for abducting five priests, two nuns and three relatives of one of the priests that month. They were later released.
Ned Price, the US State Department’s spokesman, said US officials have been in constant contact with Haiti’s National Police, the missionary group and the victims’ relatives.
“This is something that we have treated with the utmost priority since Saturday,” he said, adding that officials are doing “all we can to seek a quick resolution to this.”