American officials and authorities in Haiti are working to try and free 17 hostages from a U.S.-based missionary group who were kidnapped in Port-au-Prince over the weekend, AP reported Monday.
The latest: Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement Sunday, "The group of 16 U.S citizens and one Canadian citizen includes five men, seven women, and five children." The Ohio-based organization said they were on a trip to visit an orphanage when they were kidnapped Saturday.
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Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne told AP that the 400 Mawozo gang was behind the bus abduction.
What they're saying: A State Department spokesperson confirmed in an emailed statement Sunday that 16 U.S. citizens were among those abducted in greater Port-au-Prince.
The spokesperson added that the "welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities" of the department.
Christian Aid Ministries urged people in its statement to join "us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers and the families, friends and churches of those affected."
The big picture: Haiti has been gripped by violence since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last July — with police receiving at least 328 kidnapping reports in the first eight months of 2021, compared with 234 in total for 2020, a UN agency in Haiti found last month, AP notes.
A rights group in Port-au-Prince reported abductions surged from 73 in August to 117 in September, per WashPost, which notes the country has the "highest per capita kidnapping rate on Earth."
While it was not immediately clear why the Americans were taken, abductions have affected all social classes in Haiti in recent weeks — with kidnappers demanding anything from $100 to six figures in ransom, WashPost reports.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.
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