The leader of a Haitian gang accused of kidnapping 17 missionaries has threatened to kill them if its demands are not met, a new video apparently recorded Wednesday shows.
The 400 Mawozo gang, which controls the Ganthier commune in the suburb of Port-au-Prince where the missionaries were abducted Saturday, has been demanding $1 million per hostage, according to the country's justice minister.
A U.S. State Department official said the video, which has been circulating on social media, appears to be legitimate.
Christian Aid Ministries, an Ohio-based nonprofit organization, said Thursday that it was aware of the Facebook video appearing to show members of the gang that kidnapped its staff members.
"We will not comment on the video until those directly involved in obtaining the release of the hostages have determined that comments will not jeopardize the safety and well-being of our staff and family members," Christian Aid Ministries said.
The families of the hostages asked in a statement for prayers for the hostages' safe return and said they were praying for the gang members.
Christian Aid Ministries described the families as being from Amish, Mennonite and other Anabaptist communities in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario. The kidnapped missionaries are five children 8 months to 15 years old and 12 adults, the group has said.
Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere when its president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in July. A devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake then struck the country in August, killing more than 2,000 people and displacing thousands more.
There have been demonstrations in Haiti over the conditions there, and on Monday, Haitians held a general strike in Port-au-Prince to protest pervasive violence and the country’s devastated economy.
Christian Aid Ministries has said the group’s work in Haiti included providing medicine to clinics, teaching Haitian pastors and, most recently, coordinating a rebuilding project for Haitians who lost their homes in the July earthquake.
The FBI is assisting the State Department in trying to secure the release of the hostages. A State Department official said its focus is their safety.
The Human Rights Analysis and Research Center, a Haitian nonprofit group, said it has recorded at least 628 kidnappings since January, 29 of them of foreign nationals. The number of incidents rose by 300 percent in September compared to July, the center said.