(NEW YORK) — A Haitian gang has been blamed for kidnapping a group at a Haitian airport that included 17 missionaries, five of them children, according to officials.
Nineteen people were abducted by a gang at a checkpoint in Haiti during an airport run on Saturday, a source at the U.S. embassy told ABC News. The kidnapping occurred at the intersection of “Carrefour Boen” and “La Tremblay 17,” a source at the Haitian presidential office told ABC News.
Included in the group are 17 missionaries — 16 Americans and one Canadian — and two Haitian citizens, according to the U.S. Embassy. Two French priests were also kidnapped in a separate attack at the same location earlier in the day, the source said.
The Haitian government suspects the gang known as 400 Mawozo to be responsible for the abductions, the source said.
It is unclear where the victims were taken.
The FBI made contact with the 400 Mawozoa on Monday, the agency told ABC News.
A team of U.S. authorities, including State Department officials, was “dispatched to Haiti to work closely with Haitian authorities on this matter,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday.
“This is something that we have treated as … with the utmost priority since Saturday,” he said.
Price added that the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince has been in “constant contact” with Haitian national police, the missionary group Christian Aid Ministries and the victims’ families.
The Ohio-based ministry Christian Aid Ministries confirmed in a statement that a group of 17 people were “abducted” while on a trip to an orphanage on Saturday. They added in a statement Monday that, “civil authorities in Haiti and the United States are aware of what has happened and are offering assistance.”
“We greatly appreciate the prayers of believers around the world, including our many Amish and Mennonite supporters. The Bible says, ‘The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,’ (James 5:16),” the ministry said in a statement Monday.
Five men, seven women and five children are among those abducted, according to the ministry.
Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne told The Associated Press that the 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped the group while they were in Ganthier, about 17 miles east of Port Au Prince.
The gang has also been blamed for kidnapping five priests and two nuns earlier this year, according to The Associated Press. The country is experiencing a rise in gang-related kidnappings, many demanding ransom, that quelled after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14 that killed more than 2,200 people.
The U.S. State Department told ABC News in a statement that it is “in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and interagency partners.”
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the statement read.
The FBI is expected to assist in negotiations, ABC News has learned.
Additional information on the kidnapping was not immediately available.
ABC News’ Aicha el Hammar and Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.
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