The Oklahoman

Gang leader threatens to kill victims

Demands ransom for kidnapped missionari­es

- Evens Sanon, Matías Delacroix and Pierre-Richard Luxama

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.

“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 open coffins 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, although it wasn’t immediatel­y clear that included the five children in the group, among them an 8month-old. Sixteen Americans and one Canadian were abducted, along with their Haitian driver.

The missionari­es are with Ohiobased Christian Aid Ministries, which held a news conference before someone posted the video of the gang leader.

Weston Showalter, spokesman for the religious group, said that the families of those who’d been kidnapped are from Amish, Mennonite and other conservati­ve Anabaptist communitie­s in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvan­ia, Oregon and Ontario, Canada. He read a letter from the families, who weren’t identified by name, in which they said, “God has given our loved ones the unique opportunit­y to live out our Lord’s command to love your enemies.”

The group invited people to join them in prayer for the kidnappers as well as those kidnapped and expressed gratitude for help from “people that are knowledgea­ble and experience­d in dealing with” such situations.

“Pray for these families,” Showalter said. “They are in a difficult spot.”

The organizati­on later issued a statement saying it would 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.”

The gang leader’s death threat added to the already intense concern in and around Holmes County, Ohio, where Christian Aid Ministries is based and has one of the nation’s largest concentrat­ions of Amish, conservati­ve Mennonite and related groups. Many members of those groups have supported the organizati­on through donations or by volunteeri­ng at its warehouse.

“These kinds of things erase some of the boundaries that exist within our circles,” added Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in Millersbur­g.

“Many people in the community feel helpless, but they also realize the power of prayer and the power of our historic theology,” he said, including the Anabaptist belief in nonresista­nce to violence.

The same day that the missionari­es were kidnapped, a gang also abducted a Haiti university professor, according to a statement that Haiti’s ombudsmanl­ike Office 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.

UNICEF said Thursday that the number of women and children kidnapped in the first eight months of this year has surpassed the total for all of last year.

“Nowhere is safe for children in Haiti anymore,” Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement. “Whether on their way to school, at home or even at church, girls and boys are at risk of being kidnapped anywhere, at any time of the day or night.”

UNICEF said 71 women and 30 children were kidnapped this year, up from 59 women and 37 children last year.

“They represent one third of the 455 kidnapping­s reported this year,” the agency 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 officials 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 suffering 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 officers firing 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.”

“The criminals ... operate with complete impunity, attacking all members of society.”

Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection

 ?? JOSEPH ODELYN/AP ?? People protest for the release of kidnapped missionari­es in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday.
JOSEPH ODELYN/AP People protest for the release of kidnapped missionari­es in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday.

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