Two of the 17 peoplein Haiti last month have been freed, their church organization said Sunday. According to the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, both members are "safe" and "in good spirits," No further information, including the identities of those freed or how their release was secured, was given. The church group said: "While we rejoice at this release, our hearts are with the fifteen people who are still being held." The FBI, which is helping Haitian authorities recover the captives, declined to comment.
The missionaries were kidnapped by the '400 Mawozo' gang on Oct. 16. There are five children in the group of 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian, including an 8-month-old. Their Haitian driver also was abducted, according to a local human rights organization. The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang has threatened to kill the hostages unless his demands are met. Authorities have said the gang was demanding $1 million per person, although it wasn’t immediately clear that included the children in the group.
The release comes as Haiti has seen a spike in gang-related violence and kidnappings. The U.S. government recently urged U.S. citizens to leave Haiti, and on Friday, Canada announced it was pulling all but essential personnel from its embassy. Haiti also is trying to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck in mid-August, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying tens of thousands of homes.