Haitian gang leader threatens to kill kidnapped missionaries

White House says it is committed to help resolve situation

The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, which police say are holding 17 members of a kidnapped missionary group hostage, was seen in a video released on Thursday saying he will kill them if his demands are not met.

The video, posted on social media, shows Wilson Joseph dressed in a blue suit, carrying a blue hat and wearing a large cross around his neck.

“I swear by thunder that if I don’t get what I’m asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans,” he said in the video.

He also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the chief of Haiti’s National Police, Leon Charles, as he spoke in front of open coffins that apparently held several members of his gang who were recently killed.

“You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I’m going to make you guys cry blood,” he said.

Local media outlet Le Nouvelliste on Thursday reported that Mr Charles has resigned, citing comments by Mr Henry.

This week, authorities said that the gang was demanding $1 million per person, although it was not immediately clear if that included the five children in the group, among them an 8-month-old.

Sixteen Americans and one Canadian were abducted, along with their Haitian driver.

"We will do everything that we can to help resolve the situation," said White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

The missionaries are with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, which held a news conference before someone posted the video of the gang leader.

Weston Showalter, spokesman for the religious group, said that the families of those who had been kidnapped are from Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada.

He read a letter from the families, who were not identified by name, in which they said, “God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our Lord’s command to love your enemies.”

The group invited people to join them in prayer for the kidnappers as well as those kidnapped and expressed gratitude for help from “people that are knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with” such situations.

“Pray for these families,” Mr Showalter said. “They are in a difficult spot.”

The same day that the missionaries were kidnapped, a gang also abducted a Haitian university professor, Haiti’s ombudsman-like Office of Citizen Protection said on Tuesday. It also noted that a Haitian pastor abducted this month has not been released despite a ransom being paid.

“The criminals … operate with complete impunity, attacking all members of society,” the organisation said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads and burnt tires in Haiti’s capital to decry a severe fuel shortage and a spike in insecurity and to demand that the prime minister step down.

In addition to kidnappings, the gangs also are blamed for blocking gas distribution terminals and hijacking supply lorries, which officials say has led to a shortage of fuel.

Many gas stations now remain closed for days at a time and the lack of fuel is so dire that the chief executive of Digicel Haiti announced on Tuesday that 150 of the company's 1,500 branches countrywide are out of diesel.

“Nothing works!” complained Davidson Meiuce, who joined Thursday’s protest. “We are suffering a lot.”

Some protesters held up signs including one that read, “Down with the high cost of living.”

Demonstrators clashed with police in some areas, with officers firing tear gas that mixed with the heavy black smoke rising from burning tires that served as barricades.

Alexandre Simon, a 34-year-old English and French teacher, said he and others are protesting because Haitians are facing such a dire situation.

“There are a lot of people who cannot eat,” he said. “There is no work … There are a lot of things we don’t have.”

Updated: October 21st 2021, 8:35 PM