PORT-AU-PRINCE, October 21 (Reuters) – A Haitian who identifies himself as the leader of the gang that kidnapped a group of American and Canadian missionaries said in a video posted to YouTube on Thursday that he was prepared to kill “these Americans “if he doesn’t get what he needs.
The speaker in the video, dressed in a purple suit, is recognizable as the man known in Haiti by the pseudonym Lamo Sanjou, the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang who authorities say is behind the kidnapping of missionaries this weekend.
The sixteen Americans and one Canadian – including five children – were on a trip organized by the Christian Aid Ministries of Ohio. The missionaries were not present in the video.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the veracity of the video or when it was made.
“If I can’t find what I need, these Americans, I would rather kill them all, and I will fire a big gun in the heads of each of them,” the man said in the video.
Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel told Reuters this week the kidnappers are demanding $ 1 million per person for the release of the missionaries.
The seizure of the missionaries drew global attention to the serious kidnapping problem in Haiti, which has worsened amid economic and political crises in the Caribbean nation that have led to a spiral of violence.
The video includes footage of what appear to be five dead men lying in coffins, which the man described as “fallen soldiers”, blaming police chief Leon Charles for their deaths.
“Leon Charles made me cry, gentlemen. When it was my turn, I cried, and when I make you cry, I will make you cry tears of blood,” he said.
Haitian media Le Nouvelliste said Thursday that Charles had tendered his resignation. A Haitian police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House said Thursday it would do everything possible to help the missionaries. “We will do all we can to help resolve the situation,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, deputy White House press secretary.
A senior State Department official told reporters the video was legitimate.
“If you’re a kidnapper, your job is to say this stuff,” the official said. “We need to work with our Haitian law enforcement partners, families and institutions to try to move this process forward towards a safe resolution.
Christian Aid Ministries said he was aware of the video but would not comment until hostage negotiators determined that such remarks would put the group’s well-being at risk.
The 400 Mawozo started out as local petty thieves and have grown to become one of Haiti’s most feared gangs, controlling part of the countryside east of the capital Port-au-Prince, according to security experts.
Haitian gangs have continued to expand their territory in recent years and have become more brazen since the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moise.
Their leaders – most notably Jimmy Cherizier, leader of a gang coalition called G9 – have taken on increasingly public roles, offering numerous interviews that are broadcast online and sometimes publicly threatening politicians.
When Prime Minister Ariel Henry attempted Sunday to lead a ceremony commemorating the death of one of Haiti’s founding fathers, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, gangs fired until his delegation withdrew to hold the ceremony elsewhere .
Cherizier, who goes by the pseudonym “Barbecue,” later appeared in a white suit and made a floral offering at the scene of Dessalines’ murder, taking the prime minister’s place.
Widespread anger in Haiti over the weakening currency, double-digit inflation, soaring crime and corruption charges against officials have sparked violent, sometimes deadly, protests.
Protesters on Thursday blocked the streets of Port-au-Prince with stones and tree branches, and burned tires to protest fuel shortages.
Motorists crisscrossed the streets of the capital, often forced to turn around after passing barricades.
St Luc Lector, 26, a motorcycle driver in Pétion-Ville, near the capital, said he joined the protest because he was angry about constantly looking for fuel.
“My motorbike is my bread and butter,” he said. “For months I had to fight for gas when I have to work. This strike is necessary because life is hard for us as motorcyclists.”
Reporting by Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince and Brian Ellsworth in Miami, Additional reporting by Brad Brooks and Simon Lewis, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Daniel Flynn
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