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Haiti: Up to 17 American missionaries ‘kidnapped by gang in Port-au-Prince’

A group of up to 17 US missionaries and their families has been kidnapped by gang members in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, a voice message sent to various religious missions has warned.

The US-based Christian Aid Ministries, which claimed it had direct knowledge of the incident, said that the kidnapping occured when the missionaries were on their way home from building an orphanage.

“This is a special prayer alert," the one-minute message said. “Pray that the gang members would come to repentance.”

A US government spokesperson told the Associated Press that officials were aware of the reports but declined to provide further comment.

“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” they said.

Gang-related kidnappings are a growing problem in Haiti, with authorities saying that groups have demanded ransoms ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $1m to free captives.

At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haiti's National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report issued last month by the UN Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH.

“Political turmoil, the surge in gang violence, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions - including food insecurity and malnutrition - all contribute to the worsening of the humanitarian situation,” BINUH said in its report.

“An overstretched and under-resourced police force alone cannot address the security ills of Haiti.”

Gangs have been accused of capturing schoolchildren, doctors, police officers and even busloads of passengers in recent months.

Some incidents, such as when five priests and two nuns were kidnapped in April, have prompted protests over the lack of security in the country, which has long suffered from poverty.

The latest reported kidnapping came just days after high-level US officials visited Haiti and promised more resources for the country’s National Police, including another $15m (£11m) to help reduce gang violence.

The security situation in recent months has displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in increasingly unhygienic temporary shelters, prompting the UN Security Council to unanimously agree on Friday to extending its political mission in the country.

Additional reporting by AP