As many as 17 American Christian missionaries, including children, were kidnapped in Haiti on Saturday, according to US media reports that cited security officials, the Guardian reported.

Iran PressAmerica: The kidnapping happened as the missionaries were leaving an orphanage in the crisis-engulfed Caribbean nation, according to the New Times.

A US government spokesperson said they were aware of reports of the kidnapping.

“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the spokesperson said, declining further comment.

A spokesperson for the Haitian police said she was seeking information on the issue.

The Associated Press reported that an organisation with direct knowledge of the incident had sent a voice message to a number of religious groups.

“This is a special prayer alert,” the one-minute message from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said. “Pray that the gang members would come to repentance.”

The message states that the mission’s field director is working with the US embassy.

A rise in violence has displaced thousands and hampered economic activity in the poorest country in the Americas. Gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from thousands of dollars to more than $1m, according to authorities.

Last month, a deacon was killed in front of a church in Port-au-Prince and his wife kidnapped, one of dozens of people who have been abducted in recent months.

At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haiti’s national police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report issued last month the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH.

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