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Haiti gang demands $17 million to release kidnapped American and Canadian missionaries

Haitian gang reportedly seeking $17 million
Haitian gang reportedly seeking $17 million in ransom for abducted missionaries 02:58

Port-au-Prince, Haiti — Desperate efforts continued on Tuesday to save a group of missionaries, most of them Americans, being held for ransom by a criminal gang in Haiti. FBI agents were working with local authorities in the tiny Caribbean nation to find the 16 U.S. nationals and one Canadian who were kidnapped on Saturday.

The gang was asking for $1 million for each hostage — $17 million total — to release the missionaries, a high-ranking government source confirmed to CBS News. The dollar amount was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The missionaries, from an Ohio-based Christian organization, were abducted just outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. CBS News' Manuel Bojorquez and his team in the city were able to obtain a phone number for the leader of the "400 Mawozo" gang, which authorities believe is behind the kidnappings. CBS News dialed the number and a man picked up, but he hung up after hearing who was on the other end of the line.  

A man is seen in front of burning tires during a general strike launched by several professional associations and companies to denounce insecurity in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 18, 2021. RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP/Getty

On Monday, Haitians took to the streets of Port-au-Prince to protest over the multiple crises facing their nation, including a surge in violent kidnappings, a deadly earthquake and the assassination of their president over the summer.  

There is so much frustration in the country that Haitians come out pretty much every day to protest the dire political and economic situation, where overwhelming poverty has created a fertile breeding ground for criminal gangs like 400 Mawozo. There are simply far too many young men without jobs who can be easily recruited.  

A family of five from Oceana, Michigan, are among the Americans being held by the kidnappers.

"To have it hit that close to home is extremely heartbreaking, but what about the other families?" Todd Dueling, the pastor at a local church in Oceana, told CBS News.

Bojorquez met Linda, who works with Haitian children in Port-au-Prince. She asked that her last name not be mentioned for fear of retaliation. Linda said the children she works with offer a special prayer before leaving their homes: "'Please pray that we will be invisible… so that when we walk the streets, we won't be taken.' And yet they are."

FBI tactical teams were assisting as Haitian authorities try to negotiate the missionaries' safe return.

"You're trying to do two things at the same time — maintain open lines of communication, and prepare for the worst," James Gagliano, a former special agent with the FBI's hostage rescue team, told CBS News about what was likely going on behind the scenes. 

Gagliano said that if it became clear the gang was killing or threatening to kill hostages, the U.S. law enforcement agency would likely have a strike team on hand to attempt a rescue operation.

To underscore the extent to which nationwide poverty is at the root of not only this hostage taking, but the plague of abductions in Haiti, Linda told CBS News that the No. 1 thing gangs have asked her organization for during previous negotiations is food.

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