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All 17 missionaries kidnapped by a gang in Haiti have been released

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

All 17 of the missionaries kidnapped in Haiti two months ago have now been freed and should be heading back to the U.S. Violence remains an ongoing problem in Haiti, as does political instability. NPR's Laurel Wamsley reports.

LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: Two months to the day after the missionaries were abducted by a gang outside Port-au-Prince, the remaining 12 hostages were freed. Their release was announced by the Haitian National Police as well as Christian Aid Ministries, the Ohio-based group that organized the mission trip to Haiti. Five of the hostages had already been released. Those abducted included 16 Americans and one Canadian. And five children were among them, the youngest just 8 months old. All 17 are now safe, according to the mission group.

Several of those kidnapped are members of the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church in Western Michigan. Carleton Horst is a member there.

CARLETON HORST: Feeling great and, you know, relieved and just trusting and praising the Lord for it.

WAMSLEY: The missionaries were seized by a violent Haitian gang, 400 Mawozo, while the group traveled to visit an orphanage in October. The kidnappers initially demanded a ransom of a million dollars per hostage. It's not known what, if any, money changed hands to secure their release.

Christian Aid Ministries, the U.S. mission group, is a relief and service organization connected to the Amish and conservative Mennonite communities. On Thursday, the group thanked the public for their prayers and praised God for the return of their loved ones.

The U.S. State Department and the FBI had been part of the effort to free the hostages. White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that the White House welcomed the news of their release and that they were getting the care they need. But she declined to give details on how they were released.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS BRIEFING)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: We are thankful for the FBI, the State Department and Haitian law enforcement officials, who have been working tirelessly to get these missionaries safely home. The U.S. government has been working tirelessly over the past two months to get them released and get them the medical care and support they need after an ordeal like this.

WAMSLEY: She said protecting the welfare of Americans overseas and freeing Americans held against their will is a top priority of the Biden administration. In Haiti, violence and kidnapping have spiked, with some 800 people kidnapped in the first 10 months of this year. The nation is also reeling from the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moise and a major earthquake in August that killed more than 2,000 people.

Laurel Wamsley, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR SONG, "MOYA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.