Oct. 21 (UPI) — The leader of a Haitian gang has threatened to kill hostages if the ransom it has demanded for 17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries isn’t met.
The gang has demanded $1 million for each of the 17 missionaries from the U.S.-based Christian Aid Ministries. The missionaries were kidnapped Saturday while working in a community near Port-au-Prince where they had finished building an orphanage. The FBI is working to secure their release, according to the White House.
The threat was delivered by a video released Thursday that includes the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang speaking a day earlier at a funeral for gang members allegedly killed by police, reports The Guardian.
“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,” Wilson Joseph, the gang’s leader, said in the video.
Joseph also threatened Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and National Police Chief Léon Charles as he stood in front of coffins holding several members of his gang purportedly killed in clashes with police.
The Berlin, Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries describes itself as a non-profit that seeks to ” minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world.”
It said on its website those kidnapped are from Amish, Mennonite and other Anabaptist communities in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and the Canadian province of Ontario.
Those kidnapped include an 8-month-old infant, a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old, as well as two young teenagers, according to the non-profit’s website.
The Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights, a Port-au-Prince-based organization, published estimates of the gang’s kidnapping activities on Wednesday.
The group counted 119 kidnappings by the 400 Mawozo gang in the first half of October, including the 17 foreign nationals. That follows 782 people kidnapped in Haiti between Jan. 1 and Oct. 16 of this year, according to the group.
Earlier this spring, the gang kidnapped several other priests and nuns for more than two weeks in April, reports CNN.
“The problem in Haiti is that what is abnormal has become normal, that which is illegal has become a part of daily life, and seeds trouble in the country,” Michel Briand, a French priest who was among those kidnapped, told CNN. “[The kidnappers] are doing a job. It’s a means of subsistence.”
He said that the country’s dire poverty and inequality are driving crime where many Haitians live on a few dollars a day.
Security concerns in Haiti have become so severe that the country’s prime minister withdrew from plans to place a wreath for the Haitian Revolution leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines at a memorial located in a gang-controlled area of Port-au-Prince, reports CNN.
A statement posted to the Christian Aid Ministries’ website on Thursday said its associates are observing “a special day of prayer and fasting” that believers worldwide were invited to join.
It also asked for prayers for the hostages, authorities and the kidnappers.
“We also pray that the light of God’s love might shine out into the darkness of sin, and that the gang members might be freed from their bondage to sin and experience freedom in Jesus Christ,” reads the statement.