Seven Catholic priests, including two French nationals, were abducted on Sunday in Haiti, said the spokesman for the bishops’ conference for the island nation, which has been outraged by unrest.
Five priests and two nuns were abducted in the morning in Croix-des-Bouquets, a municipality northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, while “on their way to the installation of a new parish priest,” Father Loudger Mazile told AFP.
The kidnappers had demanded a $ 1 million ransom for the group, which includes a French priest and a French nun, he added.
Haitian authorities suspect that an armed gang named “400 Mawozo” – who is active in kidnappings – is behind the abduction, according to a police source.
Four of the priests are Haitian and one of the two nuns.
The French embassy in Haiti did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.
Kidnappings for ransom have increased in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.
Gang on the way up
“This is too much. It is time for these inhumane acts to stop,” Bishop Pierre-Andre Dumas of the Haitian municipality of Miragoane told AFP.
“The Church prays and stands in solidarity with all victims of this heinous act.”
In March, the Haitian government declared a month-long state of emergency to restore state authority in gang-controlled areas, including in the capital.
The move was motivated by actions by armed gangs that “kidnap people for ransom, openly declare it, steal and plunder public and private property and openly confront public security forces,” according to the presidential decree.
The rise of gang violence and political instability has recently drawn protesters to the streets of Port-au-Prince.
One week ago, hundreds of female protesters gathered in the city against the growing power of the gangs, which has led to an increased kidnapping against ransom.
Haiti, the poorest country in America, has also been in a month-long political crisis.
President Jovenel Moise claims that his term of office runs until February 7, 2022, but others claim that it ended on February 7, 2021.
The disagreement stems from the fact that Moise was elected in a vote that was suspended for fraud and then re-elected a year later.
Without a parliament, the country fell further into crisis in 2020, and Moise rules by decree and drives up growing distrust of him.
In the midst of instability, Moise has said he plans to hold a constitutional referendum in June.