Haiti gang leader threatens to kill kidnapped missionaries, 5 of whom are from Michigan

Evens Sanon
Associated Press

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti – The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang that police say is holding 17 members of a kidnapped missionary group is seen in a video released Thursday saying he will kill them if he doesn’t get what he’s demanding.

The video posted on social media shows Wilson Joseph dressed in a blue suit, carrying a blue hat and wearing a large cross around his neck.

Security forces patrol the streets of Croix-des-Bouquets, near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.

“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, Léon 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 per person. It wasn’t immediately clear if that included the five children in the group, who are ages 8 months, 3 years, 6, 13 and 15, according to their sponsoring organization, Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. Sixteen Americans and one Canadian were abducted, along with their Haitian driver.

A family from Oceana County, Michigan, was among 17 missionaries who were taken, including a parent and at least four children. The names of the family members, who belong to Hart Dunkard Brethren Church, have not been released by authorities.

While in Ecuador this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the Biden administration is "relentlessly focused" on the kidnapping incident. 

He noted a team from the FBI and State Department were dispatched and has been in "constant" communication with the Haitian National Police, the church the missionaries belong to, as well as the Haitian government.  

The White House made clear the U.S. government's longstanding policy against paying ransom for Americans taken hostage abroad has not changed. 

►Read moreFive of kidnapped missionaries in Haiti are from Michigan, including 4 children, pastor says

►Read moreMichigan family kidnapped in Haiti was on first mission trip there

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 protestors 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.”