PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Two of the 17 foreign missionaries who were kidnapped by a notorious street gang in Haiti last month have been released, a U.S. aid group said Sunday.
"Only limited information can be provided, but we are able to report that the two hostages who were released are safe, in good spirits, and being cared for," Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement posted to its website. "We praise God for this!"
Haitian authorities confirmed the release to The Washington Post. Haiti National Police spokesman Garry Desrosiers said he could not provide details.
The Oct. 16 kidnappings of the missionaries and family members by the gang 400 Mawozo thrust the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation again into the center of an international crisis. The group included 16 Americans and a Canadian -- six men, six women and five children. The adults ranged in age from 18 to 48, Christian Aid Ministries said. The children ranged from 8 months to 15.
The missionaries were seized while returning from a visit to an orphanage that receives support from Christian Aid Ministries, the organization said. 400 Mawozo has demanded $1 million for the return of each victim.
Gédéon Jean, director of a Port-au-Prince think tank that tracks kidnapping, described the release as "a good step that indicates that the rest of the hostages could soon be free."
"In general, 400 Mawozo hold the victims of group kidnappings for no longer than 15 days," Jean said. "This is the first time that they kidnapped a group and they have kept them for more than a month. This is an indication that the negotiations are not easy."
U.S. and Canadian officials have said they are working closely with Haitian counterparts to secure the hostages' freedom. The United States does not pay ransoms for kidnapped citizens.
State Department and FBI officials were on the ground in Haiti last month. The U.S. government has seen proof that at least some of the hostages were alive, Reuters reported this month, citing an unnamed senior Biden administration official.
"We welcome reports that two individuals held hostage in Haiti have been released," a State Department spokesperson said, declining further comment. The Canadian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to emailed questions.
Christian Aid Ministries did not respond to requests for comment.
"We cannot provide or confirm the names of those released, the reasons for their release, where they are from, or their current location," the organization said in its statement. "We ask that those who have more specific information about the release and the individuals involved would safeguard that information."
The organization has repeatedly requested prayers for the hostages and for their abductors.
"While we rejoice at this release, our hearts are with the fifteen people who are still being held," it said Sunday. "Continue to lift up the remaining hostages before the Lord."
For Haitians rich and poor, gang violence and kidnapping for ransoms have become commonplace. The country is suffering a surge in abductions that analysts say is the worst in the country's history.
400 Mawozo has gained notoriety in Haiti for its use of mass kidnappings, including abducting groups such as Christian clergy that were previously considered off-limits.
In a video last month, alleged leader Wilson Joseph threatened to kill the hostages if his demands weren't met. Joseph is wanted by police on charges including murder and kidnapping.
Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has the world's highest rate of kidnappings per capita. The brazen abduction of a large group of foreigners drew more attention to deteriorating security conditions. Analysts predicted it would deter diplomatic or humanitarian personnel from traveling to Haiti, hindering efforts to rebuild after a devastating earthquake in August.
The United States and Canada have urged citizens not to travel to Haiti.
Christian Aid Ministries was founded in 1981 as a "channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world," the organization says on its website.
The organization said it had more than 100 field staffers and operated in 126 countries and seven territories in 2020. It has worked in Haiti for years, providing emergency services, running anti-poverty programs and spreading Christian teaching. The organization returned to Haiti last year following a nine-month absence due to political unrest.