Haiti Gang That Kidnapped U.S. Missionaries Threatens to Kill Them

“I swear that if I don’t get what I want, I prefer to kill the Americans. I’ll put a bullet in each of their heads,” said Wilson Joseph, believed by Haitian officials to be the head of the 400 Mawozo gang that carried out the brazen mass kidnapping of 16 Americans and one Canadian.

The video was widely being shared on social media in Haiti on Thursday. The Wall Street Journal was unable to verify its authenticity.

Mr. Joseph appeared to be speaking in the video from a funeral on Wednesday of five of his fellow gang members, whose deaths he blamed on National Police Chief Leon Charles. It was unclear how or why the gang members were killed.

“Five soldiers fell but they won’t destroy an army. I’m going to pour blood,” he said.

Haitian police officials weren’t immediately available to comment on the accusation. But Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s office announced that Mr. Charles had resigned and been replaced by another top police official, Frantz Elbe. A senior Haitian official said Mr. Charles’ resignation was due to his inability to guarantee the prime minister’s participation Sunday in a patriotic ceremony which was marred by gunfire from local gangs.

The missionaries were abducted last Saturday in an eastern suburb of the capital when armed members of the gang forcibly stopped a minibus carrying the men, women and children. The group, which includes an 8-month-old baby, was returning from a visit to a nearby orphanage.

Christian Aid Ministries posted updates regarding the kidnapping on the front door of its office in Millersburg, Ohio, which was closed.


Asked about the gang leader’s threat to kill the hostages, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration has been “relentlessly focused” on the kidnappings, while adding that U.S. officials from the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were on the ground in Haiti.

Ms. Jean-Pierre said the U.S. government was in constant communication with the Haitian government and the church the missionaries belong to, and was working closely with the Haitian National Police to help build their capacity to deal with gangs.

“We will do everything that we can to help resolve the situation,” Ms. Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday. “It’s a very challenging and long-term process. We’re focused on it, but is it absolutely essential that this security dynamic change if Haiti is going to make real progress.”

Mr. Charles, the police chief who quit, has been heavily criticized for his handling of the investigation into the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July. More than 44 people have been detained in the investigation, but no clear motive has emerged, and the first investigating judge in the case resigned after one of his clerks was killed. Other clerks have also gone into hiding after receiving death threats.

Security forces patrolled the streets of Croix-des-Bouquets, near Port-au-Prince, this week.

Photo: Matias Delacroix/Associated Press

The kidnapping of the missionaries has only added to the sense of crisis in the country. Haiti is suffering through a wave of abductions and common crime driven by gangs that now control as much as two-thirds of the capital and country, according to some local human-rights groups.

The hostages are associated with Christian Aid Ministries, an Ohio-based charity set up by Mennonite and Amish and other conservative Christian sects. There was no immediate response by the charity to the threats.

Earlier on Thursday, Christian Aid Ministries held a press conference saying it was holding a day of fasting and prayer. The families of those being held hostage said in a public letter that they were praying for their family members as well as for the kidnappers.

Haitian police said they killed four suspects and arrested two others following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. His killing brings more political turmoil to a country that’s long been roiled by lawlessness and economic woes. Photo: Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

“Thank you for your prayers on behalf of our family members who are being held hostage in Haiti,” the letter began. “God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out Our Lord’s command to love our enemies.”

The missionaries and family members being held hostage are from Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada, and range in age from 8 months to 48 years old, said spokesman Weston Showalter. Five of the abductees are children, he added.

Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel earlier this week said the gang is asking for $1 million for the release of each hostage, a total of $17 million.

Write to José de Córdoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com

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