Haitian Gang Threatens to Shoot American Hostages in the Head Unless Ransom Paid

The Haitian gang that police say are holding 17 missionaries kidnapped last week threatened to shoot the hostages in the head if demanded ransom goes unpaid, the Associated Press reported.

The 400 Mawozo gang's leader released a video Thursday with the warning and also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the head of Haiti's National Police, Léon Charles.

Authorities said earlier this week that the gang was asking for $1 million per hostage, but it wasn't immediately known whether the five children in the group were included in the demand. In total, 16 Americans, one Canadian and their Haitian driver were kidnapped, the AP reported.

"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, dressed in a blue suit with a large cross around his neck and a blue hat in hand, says in the video.

Joseph is also seen in front of several open coffins that appeared to hold members of the 400 Mawozo gang who were recently killed, the AP said. "You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I'm going to make you guys cry blood," he said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Protests Against Kidnappings in Haiti
The Haitian gang that police say are holding 17 kidnapped missionaries threatened to shoot the hostages in the head if ransom isn't paid. Above, protesters in Haiti on Tuesday carry a banner that reads in Creole: "No to kidnappings, no to violence against women! Long live Christian Aid Ministries." Joseph Odelyn/AP Photo

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, a spokesman for the religious group, said that the families of those who'd 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 weren't 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," Showalter said. "They are in a difficult spot."

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

"The criminals...operate with complete impunity, attacking all members of society," the organization said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads and burned 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.

The scattered protest took place across the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.

In addition to kidnappings, the gangs also are blamed for blocking gas distribution terminals and hijacking supply trucks, 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 CEO of Digicel Haiti announced on Tuesday that 150 of its 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 dire situations.

"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."

Haiti Protests
Tires burn in the street as part of an anti-government protest in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Thursday. Matias Delacroix/AP Photo