US missionaries kidnapped in Haiti, officials say

No less than 17 Christian missionaries from the United States and their family members, including children, were kidnapped by a gang in Port-au-Prince on Saturday as they left an orphanage, according to Haitian security officials.

Details of the kidnapping were unclear, but local officials said the missionaries were abducted on an airport bus to drop off some of the group before continuing to another destination in Haiti.

Haiti has been in a state of political upheaval for years, and kidnappings of rich and poor alike are alarmingly frequent. But even in a country accustomed to widespread anarchy, the kidnapping of such a large group of Americans has shocked those responsible for its brazenness.

Violence is escalating in the capital, Port-au-Prince. By some estimates, gangs now control around half of the city. On Monday, gangs shot at a school bus in Port-au-Prince, injuring at least five people, including students, while another public bus was also hijacked by a gang.

Security collapsed as the country’s politics disintegrated. Protesters furious at widespread corruption demanded the ouster of President Jovenel Moïse two years ago, effectively crippling the country. The stalemate has prevented the sick from seeking treatment in hospitals, children from going to school, workers from scarce jobs available, and even prevented electricity from flowing in parts of the country.

Since then, the gangs have only become more assertive. They operate at will, kidnapping children on their way to school and pastors providing their services.

Political unrest in the country escalated further after the assassination of Mr. Moïse at his home in July, a murder that has yet to be clarified. The few remaining officials in the country soon began to fight for control of the government, and factionalism continued for months, with officials accusing each other of participating in the plot to kill the president.

The kidnapping of American missionaries came just a day after the United Nations Security Council extended its mission in Haiti for nine months in a unanimous vote on Friday. Many Haitians have called on the United States to send troops to stabilize the situation, but the Biden administration has been reluctant to engage on the ground.

A State Department spokesperson made no comment on the kidnappings in Haiti on Saturday evening.

Parts of the Haitian capital, including the places where the kidnappings took place, are so dangerous that many residents have fled, leaving once busy streets almost abandoned. Many streets have been ceded to gangs, with few pedestrians venturing out even during the day.

Gangs have kidnapped even poor street vendors, and when they can find little or nothing in their wallets, gang members sometimes demand that they sell items in their homes, like radios and refrigerators. Earlier this year, a class of students gathered to raise funds to pay the ransom of another student.

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