A U.S. Christian aid group said three more people were released of the 17 who had been kidnapped by a gang in Haiti. Two were released last month.
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Oscar Lopez and
MEXICO CITY — Three more hostages from a group of 17 missionaries and their children kidnapped in Haiti have been released, the American Christian charity they were with said on Monday. Their release brought the total number of people freed to five.
In a statement on Monday, Christian Aid Ministries said the three people released “are safe and seem to be in good spirits.”
The organization did not provide their names or ages, or the circumstances of their release, including whether a ransom had been paid. In the past, the group had asked for discretion to protect the hostages still being held.
“We would like to focus the next three days on praying and fasting for the hostages,” the statement read. The group continued, “We long for all the hostages to be reunited with their loved ones. Thank you for your prayer support.”
In an emailed response to questions, the State Department welcomed “reports that three individuals held hostage in Haiti have been released,” but declined to comment further because of “operational and security considerations.”
The Ohio-based charity said on Nov. 21 that two hostages had been released.
The kidnapped group, which included 16 Americans and one Canadian, was taken in October by a gang called 400 Mawozo, in a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. Swaths of the city have come under control of criminal groups amid the escalating political and economic crisis that followed the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, in July.
Among those kidnapped were five children, including an infant. Kidnapping has become an increasingly common practice for Haitian gangs, who have targeted even students going to school and pastors delivering sermons.
The 400 Mawozo gang, which is well-known for orchestrating mass kidnappings, had initially demanded a ransom of $1 million per person, although that was widely viewed as a starting sum for negotiations. It is not clear what, if any, money was paid for the five people released so far.
But the gang has been known to release captives with health problems. Haitian officials have said the two hostages released last month were freed over medical concerns.
The abductions set off alarm among American lawmakers, who condemned the poverty and violence that has wracked Haiti and made kidnapping-for-ransom a big businesses in and around Port-au-Prince, where nearly half the nation lives.
In the days after the missionaries and their children were seized, the F.B.I. sent a team to Haiti to work with the local authorities to secure their release. Under American law, ransoms can be paid to gangs for the release of U.S. citizens held captive. American citizens are barred, however, from paying ransoms to terrorist organizations.
But U.S. officials worry that if ransoms are paid to 400 Mawozo, it will only encourage more kidnappings. There are tens of thousands of Haitian Americans in Haiti at any given moment, according to State Department officials.
Not long after the group was first kidnapped, the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang threatened to kill the hostages if the group’s ransom demands were not met.
“I will prefer to kill them and I will unload a big weapon to each of their heads,” the leader, Wilson Joseph, said in a video recorded on the streets of the violent Croix-de-Bouquets neighborhood.
The abduction of missionaries. Seventeen people associated with a U.S. Christian aid group were kidnapped on Oct. 16 as they visited an orphanage in Haiti. The brazenness of the abductions, carried out by a gang called 400 Mawozo, has shocked officials. So far, five hostages have been released.
The aftermath of a deadly earthquake. On Aug. 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 2,100 people and leaving thousands injured. A severe storm — Grace, then a tropical depression — drenched the nation with heavy rain days later, delaying the recovery. Many survivors said they expected no help from officials.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. A group of assailants stormed Mr. Moïse’s residence on July 7, killing him and wounding his wife in what officials called a well-planned operation. The plot left a political void that has deepened the nation’s turmoil as the investigation continues. Elections that were planned for this year are likely to be delayed until 2022.
There is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Joseph has made good on his threats.
In a message last month marking 45 days since the hostages were taken, Christian Aid Ministries asked its followers to “pray for the kidnappers, that God would touch their hearts” and also gave thanks “for our government authorities and pray that God would give them wisdom as they relate to this situation.”
In addition to mass kidnappings, gangs in Haiti have grown increasingly brazen, blocking ports and holding up transportation trucks to choke off the supply of fuel to a nation that relies on generators for much of its power.
Everything from local hospitals to cellphone towers have been left with scant access to electricity, leaving parts of the country without communication and health facilities near the verge of collapse.
The 400 Mawozo gang is believed to make about $70,000 a week from extortion, theft and kidnapping-for-ransom, according to Haitian security officials.
Last month, the United States government detained an American citizen and two Haitian citizens in Florida, accusing them of smuggling arms to 400 Mawozo and providing a steady pipeline of weapons to the gang. The arrests revealed the gang’s burgeoning network in South Florida.
When law-enforcement agents searched the phone of the American citizen, Eliande Tunis, they found he had pledged loyalty to 400 Mawozo, according to Florida officials.
“We are snakes,” Mr. Tunis said in an audio message sent to a colleague, according to a detention order released by the authorities in Florida. “We slither to get where we are going. They would be shocked to see Mawozo invade Miami.”