A Haitian gang leader has threatened to kill kidnapped U.S. Christian missionary group in the lawless Caribbean nation.
The gang kidnapped the missionaries last Saturday near an orphanage and made a $17 million ransom demand shortly after.
The hostages are 16 U.S. national and 1 Canadian including children doing missionary work.
A video posted to social media on Thursday, show a man believed to be the leader of the gang called “400 Mazowo” says he’ll shoot the hostages, including five children, if his group’s demand for $1 million in ransom for each hostage is not met.
Reuters news agency said a U.S. State Department official had called the video “legitimate.” Because, the voice of the man speaking in the video is the leader Wilson Joseph.
The Christian Aid Ministries, the group which the kidnapped missionaries are affiliated, said in a statement on Thursday that it had knowledge of the video “that appears to depict members of the Gang suspected of kidnapping our staff.” But Christian Aid Ministries said it would not comment until the authority working to rescue the hostages determined that any such remarks would not jeopardize the well-being of the group.
In the video the gang leader said “I prefer that thunder burns me, if I don’t get what I need. You see those Americans, I will prefer to kill them and I will unload a big weapon to each of their heads,” he continued and said “I mean what I said, that’s it.”
The video footage includes five dead men laying in coffins, who were described as “fallen soldiers,” blaming their deaths on police chief Leon Charles.
He said “Leon Charles made me cry, gentlemen. When it was my turn, I cried my eyes out, and when I make you cry, I will make you cry tears of blood.”
Kidnappings in Haiti
The nation’s rampant poverty fueled by natural disasters, coupled with political unrest and corruption, have left Haiti to descend into utter chaos. Now with criminal gangs running in the streets and both foreign nationals and Haitians facing the risk of kidnapping for ransom on a daily basis. And this has made residents in the capital, Port-au-Prince, live in a constant state of fear.
Haitian gangs have steadily expanded their territories in recent years, and have grown more brazen since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July.
The U.S. government has a team on the ground in Haiti working with the American Embassy and the local authorities to recover the hostages, White House and law enforcement officials have said.
The Human Rights Analysis and Research Center, a Haitian nonprofit group, claimed it has recorded at least 628 kidnappings since January, 29 of them were foreign nationals. And the number of incidents rose by 300 percent in September compared to July, the center said.