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U.S. 'Does Not Negotiate With Terrorists': FBI Agent Unpacks Hostage Situation In Haiti

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Monday marks 17 days since 17 missionaries were kidnapped and held hostage in Haiti. A family of four from Northwest Wisconsin, which WCCO was asked not to identify, is a part of that team, taken by gang members.

WCCO's Liz Collin talked to a former special agent with the FBI about what negotiations look like when American lives are on the line. Before he went to work as a forensic examiner in the private sector, Chris Lester spent 30 years with the FBI.

"If this was a situation where they were just trying to bring attention to a cause be it political or religious that we would have seen tragedy already," Lester said.

Although he isn't involved, Lester expressed optimism about what's happening in Haiti, even as the days drag on.

"Any time there is a demand or a request or some sort of negotiation that started that to me always gives me a peace of mind," Lester said.

He said the fact that they're talking, that there's back-and-forth, is a good thing.

Lester described a team of hundreds working behind the scenes. The FBI'S Hostage Rescue Team began after the Munich massacre of 1972, when 11 Israeli athletes were held hostage and killed. It's when the U.S. formed its own counterterrorism tactile team, people who were in Haiti within hours when the missionaries went missing.

"Basically, trying to gather as much information as possible to ensure the safe return of the hostages," Lester said.

Reports say Haitian police were provided proof that the missionaries are alive as chaos continues in that country. The demand remains for $1 million each for the release of the 12 adults and five children, who range in age from 15 years old to 8 months old.

"The United States government does not negotiate with terrorists," Lester said. "Again, I have nothing but the highest hopes here."

Christian Aid Ministries is asking people to join a prayer network that's been set up around the world until the hostages are freed. Groups of people are praying every 15 minutes, including congregations from Ladysmith, Wisconsin, where one of the families is from.

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