Image source, AFPImage caption, Trade unions in Haiti organised a strike on Monday in protest at the high levels of insecurity

A gang which kidnapped a group of missionaries from the US and Canada in Haiti on Saturday is demanding $1m (£725,000) in ransom for each of the 17 people it is holding, the Haitian justice minister has told the Wall Street Journal.

The gang is notorious for kidnapping groups of people for ransom.

The same gang, 400 Mazowo, abducted a group of Catholic clergy in April.

The clergy were later released but it is not clear if a ransom was paid.

Who are the victims?

All of those kidnapped are US citizens, except one who is a Canadian national.

Among those seized are five men, seven women and five children. The youngest child is reportedly only two years old.

They worked for Christian Aids Ministries, a non-profit missionary organisation based in the US state of Ohio, which supplies Haitian children with shelter, food and clothing.

How were they kidnapped?

The missionaries were returning from a visit to an orphanage when the bus they were travelling in was seized by the gang members on a main road in the town of Ganthier, east of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Ganthier is located in the Croix-des-Bouquets area which is controlled by 400 Mazowo gang.

AFPHaiti gangs

  • 162number of gangs reportedly active in Haiti

  • 3,000estimated number of gang members

  • 20,000estimated number of Haitians who have fled their homes due to gang violence

Source: BBC Monitoring

Seizing vehicles and all of their occupants for ransom is one of the main activities the 400 Mazowo gang uses to finance itself.

The Washington Post said one of those abducted had posted a WhatsApp message calling for help.

"Please pray for us!! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don't know where they're taking us," it said.

What's the reaction been?

The White House said on Monday that both the US Department of State and the FBI were assisting Haitian authorities with the case.

A former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti told CNN that the kidnappers had already made contact with the missionary organisation.

Adam Ki zinger, a Republican congressman from Illinois, told CNN he believed the US should negotiate with the kidnappers, but not pay ransom.

"We need to track down where they are and see if negotiations – without paying ransom – are possible," he said. "Or do whatever we need to do, on a military front or police front."

Image source, AFPImage caption, Many streets in Port-au-Prince were empty after unions called for a strike

In Haiti, local unions staged a walkout on Monday in protest at the rising levels of crime.

The strike closed down business in Port-au-Prince and other cities, as public transportation employees stayed home. Barricades were set up in some areas to prevent workers from crossing picket lines.

How widespread is kidnapping in Haiti?

Haiti has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world.

This year has been particularly bad, with more than 600 kidnappings recorded in the first three quarters of 2021, compared with 231 over the same period last year, according to a local civil society group.

The Catholic Church has previously described the situation as "a descent into hell", with gangs taking people from all walks of life, both local and foreign.

The country has been further thrown into chaos by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July, as rival factions fight to gain control of the country in the face of a struggling police force.