Haitian gang demands $17 million for the release of kidnapped American and Canadian missionaries

Haitian gang demands $17 million for the release of kidnapped American and Canadian missionaries

Desperate efforts continued Tuesday to rescue a group of missionaries, mostly Americans, held for ransom by a criminal gang in Haiti. FBI agents have been working with local authorities in the tiny Caribbean country to find 16 American and one Canadian citizen kidnapped on Saturday.

The gang was asking for $1 million per hostage — a total of $17 million — to release the missionaries, a senior government source confirmed to CBS News. The Wall Street Journal first reported the dollar amount.

The missionaries from an Ohio-based Christian organization were kidnapped outside the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Manuel Bojorquez of CBS News and his team in the city managed to obtain the leader's phone number of the "400 Mauzu" gang, which authorities believe is behind the kidnappings. 

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

There is so much frustration in the country that Haitians go out every day to protest the dire political and economic situation, where extreme poverty has created a breeding ground for criminal gangs like the 400 Mawozo. Simply put, some too many young people do not have jobs and can be easily employed.

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

"To hit this close to home is very heartbreaking, but what about other families?" Todd Dowling, a pastor at a local church in Oceana, told CBS News.

Bogorques met Linda, who works with Haitian children in Port-au-Prince. She requested that her family name not be used for fear of reprisals. Linda said that the children she works with offer a special prayer before leaving their homes: "Please pray that we are invisible… so that we are not picked up when we are walking in the streets." Yet they are."

FBI tactical teams were helping while Haitian authorities tried to negotiate to achieve a safe return.

 We try to keep the communication open and prepare for the worst," James Galliano, a former special agent on the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, told CBS News. behind the scenes.

If it turns out that the gang is killing or threatening to kill the hostages, US law enforcement will likely have a strike team on hand to attempt a rescue operation, Gagliano said.

To underscore just how nationwide poverty is the leading cause of hostage-taking and the kidnapping epidemic in Haiti.

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