The Haitian gang that police say kidnapped 17 missionaries last week has threatened to shoot the hostages in the head if the demanded ransom is not paid.
The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang issued the warning in a video on Thursday, and he also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the head of Haiti’s National Police, Léon Charles.
Authorities stated earlier this week that the gang was demanding $1 million per hostage, but it was unclear whether the five children in the group were included in the demand. According to reports, 16 Americans, one Canadian, and their Haitian driver were kidnapped. In the video, gang leader Wilson Joseph, dressed in a blue suit with a large cross around his neck and a blue hat in hand, says, “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.”
Joseph is also seen standing in front of several open coffins, which appear to contain members of the 400 Mawozo gang who were recently killed. “You guys make me want to cry. I sob for water. But I’m going to make you cry blood, guys “He stated.
The missionaries are with the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, which held a press conference before the gang leader’s video was posted.
The families of those kidnapped are from Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Ontario, Canada, according to Weston Showalter, a spokesman for the religious group. He read a letter from the families, who were not named, in which they stated, “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 praying for the kidnappers as well as those who had been kidnapped, and expressed gratitude for assistance from “people who are knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with” such situations. “Pray for these families,” Showalter said. “They are in a difficult spot.”
According to a statement issued on Tuesday by Haiti’s ombudsman-like Office of Citizen Protection, a gang abducted a Haitian university professor on the same day the missionaries were kidnapped. It also stated that despite the payment of a ransom, a Haitian pastor who was kidnapped earlier this month has not been released.
“The criminals…operate with complete impunity, attacking all members of society,” according to the organization.
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators in Haiti’s capital blocked roads and burned tires to protest a severe fuel shortage and an increase in insecurity, and to demand that the prime minister resign.
The protest was spread out across Port-au-Delmas Prince’s neighborhood. Aside from kidnappings, the gangs are also blamed for blocking gas distribution terminals and hijacking supply trucks, which officials say has resulted in a fuel shortage. Many gas stations are now closed for days at a time, and the shortage of fuel is so severe that the CEO of Digicel Haiti announced on Tuesday that 150 of the country’s 1,500 branches are out of diesel.
“Nothing works!” exclaimed Davidson Meiuce, who joined the protest on Thursday. “We’re in a lot of pain.”
Some demonstrators held signs that read, “Down with the high cost of living.” In some areas, demonstrators clashed with police, who fired tear gas into the thick black smoke rising from burning tires used as barricades.
Alexandre Simon, a 34-year-old English and French teacher, stated that he and others are protesting because Haitians are in such dire circumstances.
“There are a lot of people who are unable to eat,” he explained. “There is no work available…. There are many things we do not have.”