The notorious Haiti gang that kidnapped 16 Americans and a Canadian on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince on Saturday is threatening to “put a bullet” in the heads of the hostages if its ransom demand of $17 million is not met.
In a video being widely circulated, Wilson Joseph, a leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, said those who haven’t “paid the bills yet” need to finish doing so.
“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.
Joseph is known as “Lanmò Sanjou,” which translates into “death doesn’t know which day it’s coming.” In the video, he is seen surrounded by a crowd of people during what appears to be a funeral procession.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not address the gang’s threat when asked about it during a Thursday press briefing.
Psaki said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is the lead on the case and she can’t address specifics. The administration, she said, is helping Haiti’s security forces address gang violence.
“It is absolutely essential that this security dynamic change if Haiti is going to make real progress,” Psaki said.
Haiti’s surging gang violence means that no one is safe.
UNICEF has said that the number of women, who often face sexual assault by their captors, and children abducted for ransom in the first eight months of this year has already surpassed last year’s total. The U.N. agency estimates that 71 women and 30 children were abducted based on available data, up from 59 women and 37 children in 2020.
“Criminal gangs are using children as bargaining chips and making money off of parents’ love for their children,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Amidst widespread poverty and rampant criminality, child abductions have become a lucrative business. This is abhorrent.”
On Thursday, the family of Pastor Jean Pierre Ferrer Michel, 76, who was kidnapped on Oct. 3 in front of his Jesus Center church in Port-au-Prince’s Delmas 29 neighborhood continued to plead for his freedom. A U.S. citizen, he remains in captivity even though a $300,000 ransom was reportedly paid by the family, according to the National Human Rights Defense Network, which demanded that police investigate allegations surrounding the kidnapping.
Michel, who lives in Miami, was in Haiti doing pastoral work when he was taken along with two of his congregants by men dressed in Haiti National Police uniforms. One of his fellow hostages was released, but he and the other congregant remain hostages of a capital gang. Though they have been held for more than three weeks, the case has not generated the same publicity as that of the missionaries, leading his wife and five children to fear that the two men will be forgotten.
In the case of the missionaries, they are now marking five days in captivity. They work for Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, and are part of the Mennonite community that provides assistance in education, healthcare and Bible teaching in areas throughout Haiti.
The 400 Mawozo gang, whose name translates into “400 Simpletons,” abducted the missionaries on Saturday just east of the capital after stopping their vehicle at gunpoint as they were returning from visiting an orphanage. The gang is known for its group kidnappings, and the ransoming of hostages by the busload and carload.
The high-profile hostage taking has thrown Haiti into the global headlines with President Joe Biden being briefed daily on efforts by the FBI to free the hostages, including five children. The youngest is eight months old.
Joseph made the video on Wednesday, a day before it circulated and Interim Haiti National Police Chief Léon Charles resigned from his post as head of the beleaguered force.
In the video, Joseph, wearing a purple suit and showing his face, asks the person operating the camera to film several coffins, presumably the corpses of five of his gang members who have been killed.
“Ariel Henry. Léon Charles. You guys make me cry,” Wilson said referring to the acting prime minister, Henry, and police chief Charles. “But I’m going to make you guys cry blood. If demands are not met. By killing five of my soldiers doesn’t mean he’s going to destroy my army. 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.”
McClatchy Washington Bureau Senior National Security Correspondent Michael Wilner contributed to this report.