The remaining 12 of 17 North Americans kidnapped in Haiti two months ago have been freed, police said Thursday, after negotiations with a notorious criminal gang to secure the missionary group's release.
The 16 Americans and one Canadian were abducted on October 16 while returning from an orphanage in an area east of the capital Port-au-Prince controlled by "400 Mawozo," one of Haiti's most powerful gangs.
Two of the 17 were released in November, and another three were freed earlier this month.
Christian Aid Ministries, based in the US state of Ohio, has said the initial group of hostages were 12 adults aged 18 to 48, and five children ranging in age from eight months to 15 years.
"We glorify God for answered prayer -- the remaining twelve hostages are free!" the group said on its website.
"Join us in praising God that all seventeen of our loved ones are now safe."
A White House spokeswoman welcomed the news, thanking "the FBI, the State Department and Haitian law enforcement officials who have been working tirelessly to get these missionaries safely home."
- Gangs in charge -
The US State Department travel advisory warns against visiting the Caribbean nation, noting "kidnapping is widespread and victims regularly include US citizens."
Previously confined to the poorer districts of the capital, gangs have recently extended their reach and increased the number of kidnappings, as the country struggles with a prolonged social, political and economic crisis.
Since December 2020, Haitian police have sought 400 Mawozo leader Wilson Joseph for crimes including assassination, kidnapping, vehicle theft and hijacking of cargo trucks.
Hundreds of people have been kidnapped for ransom since January in Haiti, according to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH).
In April, 10 people, including two French clerics, were kidnapped and held for 20 days by 400 Mawozo in the same region.
Chronically unstable Haiti was plunged into a new crisis in July when President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in a still-mysterious plot, while severe fuel shortages have been exacerbated by gangs blocking access to oil terminals.
On Tuesday a massive explosion killed at least 75 people when passers-by rushed to collect fuel that spilled from an overturned tanker truck after a crash.