The leader of a Haitian gang that police say is holding 17 members of a kidnapped missionary group has threatened to kill them if he does not get what he is demanding.
The video posted on social media shows 400 Mawozo gang leader Wilson Joseph dressed in a blue suit, carrying a blue hat and wearing a large cross around his neck.
“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,” he said in the video.
He also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the chief of Haiti’s National Police, Leon Charles, as he spoke in front of the 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.
Earlier this week, authorities said that the gang was demanding 1 million dollars per person, although it was not immediately clear that included the five children in the group, including an eight-month-old.
Sixteen Americans and one Canadian were abducted, along with their Haitian driver.
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, spokesman for the religious group, said that the families of those who had 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, 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,” Mr 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 organisation said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads and burned tyres in Haiti’s capital to decry a severe fuel shortage and a spike in insecurity and to demand that the prime minister step down.
Tyres burn in the street as part of an anti-government protest (Matias Delacroix/AP)
The scattered protest took place across the Delmas neighbourhood 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 petrol 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 tyres that served as barricades.