The gang that kidnapped 17 missionaries while they were on a trip to visit an orphanage in Haiti on Saturday has demanded $1 million each for their safe return, Justice Minister Liszt Quitel confirmed Tuesday.
"The demand was made to the country chief of the Christian Aid Ministries — they asked for $1 million per person," Quitel told The New York Times in a phone interview. "Often these gangs know these demands cannot be met and they will consider a counteroffer from the families, and the negotiations can take a couple of days sometimes, or a couple of weeks."
The kidnapped missionaries include six men, six women and five children, of which 16 are Americans and one Canadian, the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement Sunday.
The missionaries were working with the international aid organization when they were taken on Saturday by the 400 Mawozo gang.
The gang, whose name roughly translates to "inexperienced men," is known for brazen killings, ransom kidnappings and extorting businessmen.
Minister Ron Marks of the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church in Michigan told The Detroit News on Monday that several members of his church — a family of five, including four children — are among the kidnapped missionaries.
Marks did not identify the members but said the youngest child is under 10 years old.
"Our primary focus is on God and His providence to bring us through this," Marks told the publication.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a press briefing Monday that while she could not reveal the identities of the missionaries for safety reasons, the State Department and the FBI are working together to "bring these individuals home safely."
"The President has been briefed and is receiving regular updates on what the State Department and the FBI are doing to bring these individuals home safely," Psaki said.
"The FBI is part of a coordinated U.S. government effort to get the U.S. citizens involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, we're not going to go into too much detail on that but can confirm their engagement. And the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince is coordinating with local authorities and providing assistance to the families to resolve the situation."
In an update on the situation on Monday, Christian Aid Ministries, which had called on the Christian community to pray for the safe return of the missionaries, thanked the media and global supporters for their help and prayers. The organization even called for prayers for the kidnappers.
"We are entering the third day since seventeen of our workers were kidnapped by a gang in Haiti. The media has carried this situation across the globe. Civil authorities in Haiti and the United States are aware of what has happened and are offering assistance. We continue to monitor the situation closely and are in earnest prayer," the organization headquartered in Ohio said.
"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). Join us in prayer that God's grace would sustain the men, women, and children who are being held hostage."
Specifically, Christian Aid Ministries is calling on people to pray that those being held hostage will "find strength to demonstrate God's love."
"The kidnappers, like all people, are created in the image of God and can be changed if they turn to Him," the Monday update states. "While we desire the safe release of our workers, we also desire that the kidnappers be transformed by the love of Jesus, the only true source of peace, joy, and forgiveness."