U.S. and Canadian missionaries kidnapped in Haiti released by gang

By Gessika Thomas and Brian Ellsworth

(Reuters) -The last 12 Canadian and American missionaries from a group kidnapped in October in Haiti have been released, police said on Thursday, ending an ordeal that brought global attention to the Caribbean nation’s growing problem of gang abductions.

The group, which was abducted by a gang known as 400 Mawozo after visiting an orphanage, originally numbered 17 people on a trip organized by Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries (CAM).

Five of the hostages had already been freed in recent weeks, and the final dozen were found by authorities on a mountain called Morne à Cabrit, said police spokesman Garry Derosier. He declined to provide further details on the release.

“Join us in praising God that all seventeen of our loved ones are now safe,” CAM said in a statement. “Thank you for your fervent prayers throughout the past two months.”

The 400 Mawozo gang, which controls territory to the east of the capital Port-au-Prince, had said it was seeking a ransom of $1 million for each of the missionaries.

The gang’s leader, who goes by the nickname Lanmo Sanjou and has appeared in internet videos wearing a Spider-Man mask, had said he was willing to kill the hostages.

It was not immediately clear whether any ransom was paid.

Gangs have extended their control of territory in Haiti since the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moise. One gang coalition in October created a nationwide fuel shortage by blocking access to storage terminals.

Haitians say everyone from well-heeled elites to working class street vendors face the threat of abduction by the gangs.

(Reporting by Gessika Thomas in Cap-Haitien and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

The family of U.S. tourist Kurt Cochran who was killed in last week’s assault on the British parliament said on Monday he would not have borne any ill feelings toward the attacker.

Clint Payne, brother of Westminster Bridge attack victim Melissa Cochran, speaks at a news conference at New Scotland Yard, in London, Britain,

LONDON (Reuters) – The family of U.S. tourist Kurt Cochran who was killed in last week’s assault on the British parliament said on Monday he would not have borne any ill feelings toward the attacker.

Cochran, 54, and his wife, Melissa, were in Europe to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary when they were mowed down on Westminster Bridge by a car driven by British man, Khalid Masood, who went on to fatally stab an unarmed policeman at the parliament building.

The couple from Utah had been due to return to the United States the day after the attack took place last Wednesday. Melissa remains in hospital where she is recovering from a cut to the head, a broken rib and badly injured leg.

“We know that Kurt wouldn’t bear ill feelings toward anyone and we can draw strength as a family from that,” Clint Payne, Cochran’s brother-in-law, told a news conference at police headquarters, just yards from where the attack took place.

“His whole life was an example of focusing on the positive. Not pretending that negative things don’t exist but not living our life in the negative – that’s what we choose to do.”

Cochran was one of four people killed in the assault, Britain’s deadliest attack since the 2005 London underground bombings, and his family said they had since been overwhelmed by the “love of so many people” in London and around the world.

Celebrating their anniversary, the couple had left the U.S. for the first time to visit Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and parts of Britain before visiting London last week to see the neo-Gothic parliament building on the banks of the River Thames.

The couple, who had a recording studio business, were visiting Melissa Cochran’s parents, who are missionaries in London for the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon church.

“They loved it here and Kurt repeatedly said that he felt like he was at home so thank you for that, thank you for being such good people,” Melissa’s father Dimmon Payne said.

Shantell Payne, Melissa’s sister and one of 13 family members to attend the news conference, said it was “awful, horrible and gut wrenching” that the attack had been carried out in the name of religion, but that the family would focus on the positive’s of Cochran’s life.

“We’re thankful in a sense that everyone can know what an amazing person he really was,” she said.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison)

Hundreds of Missionaries May Be Forced From U.K.

The office of Youth With A Mission in England and Wales could lose 350 missionary families in April because British immigration officials have suspended the ministry’s visa sponsor status.

The UK Visas & Immigration office claims that YWAM committed mistakes in two of seven areas that were being audited.  The UK is working to lower the number of immigrants in the nation.  YWAM immediate submitted corrected paperwork to the UKVI.

“Whilst we recognize and support the [UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) office’s] legitimate right to concern over compliance to the rules, we do not feel that the issues raised in the letter from the UKVI justify such a draconian outcome as losing our license would produce,” wrote YWAM Harpenden in an “urgent request” sent Friday and highlighted by the Evangelical Alliance UK (EAUK).

YWAM has been working to resolve concerns, but if they cannot by January 20th the UKVI may revoke their license and require all missionaries to leave the country within 60 days.

“The British government has said they want to reduce immigration by one third. So they are going to have to find organizations that currently have licenses and potentially take them away in order to meet that target,” said Mark Vening of YWAM to Christianity Today. “We wonder whether or not faith-based organizations are providing perhaps a soft target for that.”