Kidnappers in Haiti Demand $17 Million to Free Missionary Group

The gang, known as 400 Mawozo, controls the area where the missionaries were abducted in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, the capital. The group has sown terror there for several months, engaging in armed combat with rival gangs and kidnapping businessmen and police officers.

The gang has taken kidnapping in Haiti to a new level, snatching people en masse as they ride buses or walk the streets in groups whose numbers might once have kept them safe.

The gang was blamed for kidnapping five priests and two nuns earlier this year. It is also believed to have killed Anderson Belony, a famous sculptor, on Tuesday, according to local news reports. Mr. Belony had worked to improve his impoverished community.

Croix-des-Bouquets, one of the suburbs now under control by the gang, has become a near ghost town, with many residents fleeing the daily violence.

The once-bustling area now lacks the poor street vendors who used to line the sidewalks, some of whom were kidnapped by the gang for what little they had in their pockets or told to sell what few possessions they had at home, including radios or refrigerators, to pay off the ransom. By some estimates, gangs now control about half the capital.

Gangs have plagued Port-au-Prince over the past two decades, but were often used for political purposes — such as voter suppression — by powerful politicians. They have grown into a force that is now seemingly uncontrollable, thriving in the economic malaise and desperation that deepens every year, with independent gangs mushrooming across the capital.

While older, more established gangs trafficked in kidnapping or carrying out the will of their political patrons, newer gangs like 400 Mawozo are raping women and recruiting children, forcing the youth in their neighborhood to beat up those they captured, training a newer, more violent generation of members. Churches, once untouchable, are now a frequent target, with priests kidnapped even mid-sermon.

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