By Gessika Thomas and Brian Ellsworth
CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti -The last 12 Canadian and American missionaries from a group kidnapped in October in Haiti have been released, police said on Thursday, ending an ordeal that brought global attention to the Caribbean nation’s growing problem of gang abductions.
The group, which was abducted by a gang known as 400 Mawozo after visiting an orphanage, originally numbered 17 people on a trip organized by Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries (CAM).
Five of the hostages had already been freed in recent weeks, and the final dozen were found by authorities on a mountain called Morne à Cabrit, said police spokesman Garry Derosier.
“Join us in praising God that all seventeen of our loved ones are now safe,” CAM said in a statement. “Thank you for your fervent prayers throughout the past two months.”
The 400 Mawozo gang, which controls territory to the east of the capital Port-au-Prince, had said it was seeking a ransom of $1 million for each of the missionaries.
The gang’s leader, who goes by the nickname Lanmo Sanjou and has appeared in internet videos wearing a Spider-Man mask, had said he was willing to kill the hostages.
It was not immediately clear whether any ransom was paid. Asked about the issue, Desrosiers said he could not provide any further details on the release.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said of the missionaries: “We welcome reports that they are free and getting the care they need after their ordeal.”
The 400 Mawozo, a self-mocking name that loosely translates to “400 idiots,” started out as local thieves in the Croix-de-Bouquets area east of the capital before growing into one of the country’s most feared gangs.
Gangs have extended their control of territory in Haiti since the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moise. One gang coalition in October created a nationwide fuel shortage by blocking access to storage terminals.
Haitians say everyone from well-heeled elites to working class street vendors face the threat of abduction by the gangs.