Up to 17 US missionaries and family kidnapped in Haiti - media

A surge in gang violence has displaced thousands and hampered economic activity in the poorest country in the Americas.

 The flag of Haiti. (photo credit: PIXABAY)
The flag of Haiti.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

As many as 17 American Christian missionaries and their families, including children, were kidnapped on Saturday by gang members in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince, US media reported.

The kidnapping happened after the missionaries left an orphanage in the crisis-engulfed Caribbean nation, the New York Times said.

Security experts believe a gang called 400 Mawozo was involved in the abduction of the missionaries.

The group dominates the Croix-des-Bouquets area, east of Port-au-Prince, and is near where the missionaries were reported to have been abducted.

400 Mawozo is suspected being involved in the April kidnapping in the same area of a group of priests and nuns that included French citizens.

The Washington Post reported that audio from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said: “men, women and children” associated with the group were being held by an armed gang.

“The mission field director and the American embassy are working to see what can be done,” the audio was quoted as saying. “Pray that the gang members will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.”

The victims included 14 adults and three minors, CNN said, citing an unnamed source in Haiti's security forces.

They were traveling to Titanyen after visiting the orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area, CNN said. The Times, citing local officials, said the missionaries were taken from a bus headed to the airport to drop off some members of the group before continuing to another destination in Haiti.

Kidnapping has been on the rise for months in Haiti as the impoverished country's economy worsens, though abductions of foreigners are relatively rare.

Victims generally come from the Haitian middle class - teachers, priests, civil servants, small business owners - who cannot afford bodyguards but can scrape together a ransom.

The US State Department is aware of the reports, a spokesperson told Reuters but did not offer details. "The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad are one of the highest priorities of the Department of State," the spokesperson said in an email.

Haitian President Moise Jovenel speaks during a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, December 11, 2017. (credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL VIA REUTERS)Haitian President Moise Jovenel speaks during a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, December 11, 2017. (credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL VIA REUTERS)

The US Embassy in Haiti did not respond to a request for comment outside business hours. A spokeswoman for the Haitian police said she was seeking information on the issue.

Christian Aid Ministries did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A surge in gang violence has displaced thousands and hampered economic activity in the poorest country in the Americas. Violence spiraled after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July and an earthquake in August which killed over 2,000 people.