As many as 17 Christian missionaries from the United States and their family members, including women and children, were kidnapped on Saturday by a gang in Port-au-Prince as they were leaving an orphanage, according to Haitian security officials.
Details of the kidnapping remained unclear, but local officials said the missionaries were abducted from a bus headed to the airport to drop off some members of the group before continuing to another destination in Haiti.
Haiti has been in a state of political upheaval for years, and kidnappings of the rich and poor alike are alarmingly common. But even in a country accustomed to widespread lawlessness, the abduction of such a large group of Americans shocked officials for its brazenness.
Violence is surging across the capital, Port-au-Prince. By some estimates, gangs now control roughly half of the city. On Monday, gangs shot at a school bus in Port-au-Prince, injuring at least five people, including students, while another public bus was hijacked by a gang as well.
Security has broken down as the country’s politics have disintegrated. Demonstrators furious at widespread corruption demanded the ouster of President Jovenel Moïse two years ago, effectively paralyzing the country. The standoff prevented the sick from getting treatment in hospitals, children from attending school, workers from going to the rare jobs available and even stopped electricity from flowing in parts of the country.
Since then, gangs have become only more assertive. They operate at will, kidnapping children on their way to school and pastors in the middle of delivering their services.
The nation’s political turmoil intensified further after Mr. Moïse was assassinated in his home in July, a killing that remains unsolved. The few remaining officials soon began fighting for control of the country, and the factionalism has continued for months, with officials accusing one another of taking part in the conspiracy to kill the president.