MIAMI (CBSMiami) — CBS News has confirmed the FBI is helping with hostage negotiations in Haiti after 17 Christian missionaries were abducted there over the weekend. The State Department says officials are in contact with the families of the abducted group, which includes sixteen Americans and one Canadian, five of them children.
A senior law enforcement official tells CBS News that FBI tactical teams are on the ground in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, ready for a possible rescue mission and assisting in making contact with the kidnappers.READ MORE: Arrest Made After Social Media Threat Targets Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
“Where our efforts right now are focused are with, officials on the ground including from the FBI, working closely with our diplomatic team and the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, who’s coordinating with the local authorities, providing assistance to the families,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
The missionaries were affiliated with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries which released a statement saying, “We request urgent prayer for the group of Christian Aid Ministries workers who were abducted while on a trip to visit an orphanage.”
The gang believed to be responsible is known to carry out mass kidnappings from busses and cars.
CBS News obtained a WhatsApp message from a person who claims to have been in contact with the abducted group which read, in part, “Please pray for us—we’re being harassed, kidnapped—they have control of our vehicle.”READ MORE: CBS4 Exclusive: Support Beams At Dadeland Mall Parking Garage Alarms Shoppers
“Haiti has been rocked by turmoil in recent months, with the assassination of the country’s president, a 7-point-2 magnitude earthquake, and the mass return of thousands of Haitian migrants from the US southern border.
Garry Pierre-Pierre, founder and publisher of the Haitian Times, says gangs feel empowered amid the chaos.
“There’s no functioning government and the gangs rule Port-au-Prince and the country at large.”
The Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights says there’ve been more than 600 kidnappings in Haiti, just this year.MORE NEWS: Florida Farmers Grapple With Transportation Problems
The U.S. State Department a “do not travel” advisory in place for Haiti, citing “kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and COVID-19.”