A Haitian gang that kidnapped a group of American and Canadian missionaries is asking for $17 million- or $1 million each - to release them, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing a Haitian official.
Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said the FBI and Haitian police are in contact with the kidnappers and seeking the release of the missionaries abducted over the weekend outside the capital Port-au-Prince by a gang called 400 Mawozo, the Journal reported.
CNN reported earlier on Tuesday the kidnappers first called Christian Aid Ministries - the group to which the victims belonged - on Saturday and immediately conveyed the price tag for the missionaries' release. The FBI and Haitian police were advising the group in negotiations, the minister said.
Several calls between the kidnappers and the missionary group have taken place since their disappearance, the minister told CNN.
The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries called for prayers for the "Haitian and American civil authorities who are working to resolve this situation."
Among the 16 Americans and one Canadian are five children, including an 8-month-old baby, the missionary organization said. They were abducted in an area called Croix-des-Bouquets, about 8 miles (13 km) outside the capital, which is dominated by the 400 Mawozo gang.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the Haiti kidnapping is indicative of a security situation in the country that is unsustainable.
"We in the administration have been relentlessly focused on this," he said.
Kidnappings have become more brazen and commonplace in Haiti amid a growing political and economic crisis, with at least 628 incidents in the first nine months of 2021 alone, according to a report by the Haitian nonprofit Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, or CARDH.
Haitians on Monday mounted a nationwide strike to protest gang crime and kidnappings, which have been on the rise for years and have worsened since the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise.