Editor’s note: This is a developing story emerging Dec. 16. This report will be updated as more information becomes available.
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Gang members have released the remaining 12 missionaries kidnapped in Croix-des-Bouquets two months ago, the Christian Aid Ministries announced on its website Thursday.
“We glorify God for answered prayer — the remaining twelve hostages are FREE,” the note reads. “Join us in praising God that all seventeen of our loved ones are now safe. Thank you for your fervent prayers throughout the past two months.”
The missionaries were released Wednesday night, according to news site Vant Bef Info. The 400 Mawozo gang, which claimed responsibility for kidnapping the 17 Christians on Oct. 16, had asked for a ransom of $1 million per person. An unnamed Haitian law enforcement source told CNN that a ransom was paid, but it was far lower than the initial $1 million request. The Coast Guard flew the missionaries back to the U.S. on Thursday, the source said.
The Christian Aid Ministries members, including children, were kidnapped in Croix-des-Bouquets, an area of the capital known to be controlled by the Mawozo.
The gang first released two of the missionaries on Nov. 21 and three on Dec. 6.
Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat and co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus, said in a prepared statement on Dec. 16 that he was “encouraged to hear” of the hostages’ release.
“I also want to acknowledge that there are so many Haitians terrorized by kidnappings and extreme levels of violence, even as the humanitarian and security crisis in Haiti continues to worsen,” Levin said.
Levin also advocated for a solution to Haiti’s ongoing security challenges and called on the U.S. to support Haitian-led efforts for “a real and accountable democracy.”
Spokespeople for the State Department and White House have not returned requests for comment by email and phone.
Negotiating a release
The U.S. sent FBI agents to Haiti, in October, to help secure the release of the captives. The amount of time it took to see them released drew much speculation about what the U.S. should do.
Security experts told The Haitian Times recently that the U.S. would likely have to negotiate with 400 Mawozo and would be ill-advised to use force.
Circumstances surrounding the release were initially unclear on Thursday afternoon. However, negotiators have no incentive to announce any ransom or deal with criminal groups, said Orlando Wilson, who owns a security firm called Risks Incorporated that provides training and kidnap ransom services.
“Nobody’s going to admit a ransom’s been paid because that will encourage more people to take hostages,” said Wilson, who has worked in Haiti.
Officially, the U.S. has a “no concessions” policy, and legally forbids providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. However, the U.S. permits paying ransom if the hostage taker is not a designated foreign terrorist organization, Danielle Gilbert, a professor of military and strategic studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy has written.
No Haitian groups are on the U.S. State Department’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, which was updated earlier this month.