A notorious gang with a history of kidnappings has been blamed by police for the abduction of 17 missionaries in Haiti.
The 400 Mowozo gang was said to have kidnapped the religious group on Saturday, which included children, who were on their way home from an orphanage in the capital Port-au-Prince.
Christian Aid Ministries, the group which the missionaries belonged to, said that five men, seven women and five children made up the abducted group of 16 Americans and one Canadian.
400 Mowozo, which loosely translates as 400 inexperienced men, controls parts of Haiti, and are known to authorities as people who carry out kidnappings, conduct car-jackings and extort businesses.
The US has admitted it does not know the location of its citizens who have been kidnapped, according to CNN which cites sources.
In a statement, Christian Aid Ministries said: “We request urgent prayer for the… workers who were abducted while on a trip to visit an orphanage. We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help.
“Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers, and the families, friends, and churches of those affected. Pray for those who are seeking God’s direction and making decisions regarding this matter.”
Haiti has seen a resurgence in the number of gang-related kidnappings after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his home in July.
The country, the poorest in the Americas, has also been wrestling with the aftermath of a major earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people the following month.
The New York Times said parts of the capital are now so dangerous that many residents have fled – and few people venture out during the day.
Gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from thousands of dollars to more than $1m, according to authorities.
Last month, a deacon was killed in front of a church in Port-au-Prince and his wife kidnapped, one of dozens of people who have been abducted in recent months.
At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haitian police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a recent UN report.
The instability has led thousands to flee and seek to reach the US, where they have been stopped at the border.