The U.S. State Department confirmed on Monday (Oct. 18) that 16 of the missionaries kidnapped over the weekend in Haiti are U.S. citizens, CNN reports.
“We have been in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and inter-agency partners,” a State Department official said.
Citing a source in Haiti, CNN said the notorious “400 Mawozo” gang is behind the abduction of the 16 Americans and one Canadian.
The missionaries were kidnapped on Saturday (Oct. 16) while on a trip to visit an orphanage, according to a statement posted Sunday (Oct. 17) from Christian Aid Missionaries. Those abducted include five men, seven women, and five children.
“Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers, and the families, friends, and churches of those affected,” the statement said. “Pray for those who are seeking God’s direction and making decisions regarding this matter.”
According to CNN, the kidnappers contacted the missionary organization. There were no details about any negotiations about ransom.
The 400 Mawozo typically demands about $20,000 in ransom, CNN reported, citing data from Haiti-based nonprofit Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights.
Kidnappings by the gang surged nearly 300 percent since July, with Haitians as the most likely target. 400 Mawozo, which once specialized in car theft, has pioneered mass kidnappings in the Caribbean country.
CBS News reported that high-level U.S. officials met with their Haitian counterparts in Haiti days before the kidnapping. They promised resources to Haiti’s National Police that included $15 million to help reduce gang activities.