INDIA

Two North American hostages set free after gang attack

Two of the 17 US and Canadian missionaries taken hostage last month in Haiti have been set free, the country’s national police confirmed on Sunday.

Haitian officials said a gang that snatched them after a visit to an orphanage had demanded a $1 million (€885, 815) ransom per person in return for their release.

The freed hostages “are safe, in good spirits and being cared for” said the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries group which arranged the trip.

What do we know so far?

The 400 Mawozo gang, as they are known, kidnapped one Canadian US and 16 missionaries on October 16, bringing the matter to the attention of the US authorities.

The armed bandits surpised the group, which included an 8-month-old baby, in the neighborhood of Croix-des-Bouquets they dominate, 8 miles (13 kilometers) outside the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.

A Haitian man who identified himself as the leader of the gang said in a Youtube video posted last month that he would kill “these Americans” if the ransoms were not paid.

The kidnappers have also demanded the release from prison of one of their leaders, according to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights.

 “We cannot provide or confirm the names of those released, the reasons for their release, where they are from, or their current location,” Christian Aid Ministries said.

“While we rejoice at this release, our hearts are with the fifteen people who are still being held,” it added.

What have authorities done so far?

US officials have led efforts to bring the North Americans to safety, and in November said they had evidence the missionaries were still alive.

Since the October 16 attack, US President Joe Biden has received regular briefings of any progress made by law enforcement.

FBI agents were sent to Haiti to investigate the incident.

The 400 Mawozo gang went from being small-time thieves to become one of Haiti’s most dangerous criminal groups.

In April, five priests and two nuns, including French citizens, were kidnapped in the same Croix-des-Bouquets neighborhood. They were released later that month.

The Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, which follows Haitian hostage scenarios, reported there have been over 800 kidnappings until October this year, with an increase of 300% since July.

It follows major political upheaval after the assassination of the country’s president Jovenel Moise. The country also suffered an earthquake which left over 2,000 dead last summer.

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