Two of the 17 US and Canadian missionaries abducted by an armed gang in Haiti last month have been released. The two people were "safe, in excellent spirits, and being cared for," Christian Aid Ministries stated on Sunday.
On October 16, the missionaries and their family members, including children, were kidnapped. They were on their way back after visiting an orphanage when gang members stopped their bus on a prominent route in Ganthier, a town east of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Except for one Canadian national, all of those taken at the time - five men, seven women, and five children - are US citizens. The group suspected of being behind the kidnappings, known as 400 Mawozo, later sought a ransom of $1 million for each of the 17 victims taken captive, BBC News reported.
Christian aid says Haiti gang releases two abductees
Christian Aid Ministries, a US-based group that mainly helps Haitians through contributions and provides shelter, food, and clothes to children, issued a statement on Sunday stating that it continues to "pray for the full settlement of this problem."
One of the major ways the 400 Mawozo raises money is by seizing cars and all of its passengers for ransom. The gang kidnapped a group of Catholic clergy in April, but they ultimately freed them. It's unclear whether a ransom was paid.
Kidnapping is one of the most common crimes in Haiti, with powerful gangs taking advantage of the lawlessness to profit from ransom payments. With roughly 800 kidnappings recorded by the end of October, this year has been exceptionally severe.
The surge follows the killing of President Jovenel Mose in July, as opposing factions vie for control of the country against a failing police force.
The Haitian National Police confirmed the release of the two hostages to ABC News. According to the statement, the ministry could not reveal the identities of individuals freed, the reasons for their freedom, or their present location. They did not disclose the whereabouts of the remaining hostages.
Release comes as Haiti faces increasing gang-related violence
A source at the US embassy said the Haitian government believes the 400 Mawozo gang carried out the abductions. According to ABC News, the FBI contacted the 400 Mawozo on October 18 and is aiding in discussions.
Because of the country's rising instability and a severe scarcity of fuel, the US administration has urged US citizens to leave Haiti. On Friday, Canada declared that all but essential employees would be removed from its embassy.
Per WWLTV, the news comes as Haiti faces an uptick in gang-related violence and kidnappings, with the US government recently advising US residents to flee the country due to rising insecurity and a severe scarcity of gas blamed on gangs blocking gas delivery facilities.
The fuel crisis has led hospitals to turn away patients and halted public transit, resulting in the closure of several schools and reduced business hours. Haiti is also striving to recover from President Jovenel Moise's assassination on July 7 and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in mid-August that killed over 2,200 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes.