Haiti kidnapper threatens to 'put a bullet in the heads of these Americans' if $17m ransom is not met

·3-min read
People protest for the release of kidnapped missionaries near the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries headquarters in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince - AP
People protest for the release of kidnapped missionaries near the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries headquarters in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince - AP

The boss of a notorious Haitian gang accused of kidnapping 17 members of a US-based missionary group last weekend is warning that the hostages will be killed if his demands aren't met.

"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," gang leader Wilson Joseph said in a video posted on social media Thursday.

Officials said early in the week that the 400 Mawozo gang was demanding $1 million (£811,000) for each of those kidnapped, although it wasn't 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.

Joseph also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and Haiti's national police chief as he spoke in front of the 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.

The missionaries who were abducted Saturday during a visit to an orphanage are with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, which held a news conference before Joseph's video was posted.

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

The organisation later issued a statement saying it would not comment on the video.

An aerial view of Christian Aid Ministries headquarters in Titanyen, Haiti - AP
An aerial view of Christian Aid Ministries headquarters in Titanyen, Haiti - AP

The same day that the missionaries were kidnapped, a gang also abducted a Haiti university professor, according to Haiti's ombudsman-like Office of Citizen Protection. It also noted a Haitian pastor abducted earlier this month had not been released despite a ransom being paid.

Criminals "operate with complete impunity, attacking all members of society," the office said.

Unicef said Thursday that 71 women and 30 children have been kidnapped so far this year _ surpassing the 59 women and 37 children abducted in all of last year. "They represent one third of the 455 kidnappings reported this year," the agency said.

"Nowhere is safe for children in Haiti anymore," Jean Gough, Unicef regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement.

Dwindling fuel supplies

Widespread anger in Haiti over a weakening currency, double-digit inflation, soaring crime, and graft accusations lodged against public officials have sparked violent, sometimes deadly, protests.

Demonstrators on Thursday blocked streets of Port-au-Prince with rocks and tree branches, and burned tires to protest fuel shortages.

 A United Nations vehicle drives past a barricade of burning tires during a demonstration against high prices and fuel shortages in Port-au-Prince - AFP
A United Nations vehicle drives past a barricade of burning tires during a demonstration against high prices and fuel shortages in Port-au-Prince - AFP

Drivers wound through the side streets of the capital, often forced to turn around after coming across barricades.

St Luc Lector, 26, a motorcycle driver in Petion-Ville, near the capital, said he joined the protest because he was angry about constantly searching for fuel.

"My motorcycle is my bread and butter," he said. "For months I have had to fight to find gasoline when I have to work. This strike is necessary because life is hard for us as motorcycle drivers."

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