WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States must find up to 17 U.S. missionaries reported kidnapped in Haiti and see if it can negotiate their release without paying a ransom or should use the military or police to secure their freedom, a U.S. congressman said on Sunday.
Gang members kidnapped the missionaries after they left an orphanage in the Caribbean nation, where violence has surged since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July and an earthquake in August, CNN and the New York Times reported.
Reuters was not able to independently confirm the reported kidnapping, whose victims included 14 adults and three minors, according to CNN, which cited an unnamed source in Haiti's security forces. They were traveling to Titanyen after visiting the orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area, CNN said.
"We need to track down where they are and see if negotiations - without paying ransom - are possible. Or do whatever we need to do, on a military front or a police front," Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN on Sunday.
The Washington Post reported https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/10/17/haiti-american-missionaries-kidnapped that an audio message from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said "men, women and children" associated with the group were being held by an armed gang.
"The mission field director and the American embassy are working to see what can be done," the audio was quoted as saying. "Pray that the gang members will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ."
Asked if it could confirm the kidnapping, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said only that it was aware of the reports, adding: "The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State."
Christian Aid Ministries did not immediately respond to a request for comment and its Millersburg, Ohio, headquarters appeared closed on Sunday.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Writing By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Nick Zieminski)