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Haiti gang leader threatens to kill kidnapped Canadian, American missionaries

Click to play video: 'FBI negotiating for safe return of kidnapped Canadian, American missionaries in Haiti' FBI negotiating for safe return of kidnapped Canadian, American missionaries in Haiti
WATCH ABOVE: FBI negotiating for safe return of kidnapped Canadian, American missionaries in Haiti – Oct 19, 2021

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.

Read more: Canadian among 17 missionaries abducted in Haiti, religious group says

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 coffins that apparently held several members of his gang who were recently killed.

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“You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I’m going to make you guys cry blood,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Biden getting ‘regular updates’ on efforts to rescue kidnapped Americans in Haiti: Psaki' Biden getting ‘regular updates’ on efforts to rescue kidnapped Americans in Haiti: Psaki
Biden getting ‘regular updates’ on efforts to rescue kidnapped Americans in Haiti: Psaki – Oct 18, 2021

Earlier this week, authorities said that the gang was demanding $1 million per person, although it wasn’t immediately clear that included the five children in the group, among them an 8-month-old. Sixteen Americans and one Canadian were abducted, along with their Haitian driver.

The missionaries are with Ohio-based 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 identified 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.”

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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 difficult spot.”

Click to play video: 'FBI part of ‘coordinated effort’ to get missionaries kidnapped in Haiti to safety, Psaki says' FBI part of ‘coordinated effort’ to get missionaries kidnapped in Haiti to safety, Psaki says
FBI part of ‘coordinated effort’ to get missionaries kidnapped in Haiti to safety, Psaki says – Oct 19, 2021

The same day that the missionaries were kidnapped, a gang also abducted a Haiti university professor, according to a statement that Haiti’s ombudsman-like Office 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.

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.

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The scattered protest took place across the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.

Read more: U.S. seeking release of American, Canadian missionaries abducted in Haiti

In addition to kidnappings, the gangs also are blamed for blocking gas distribution terminals and hijacking supply trucks, which officials 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 suffering a lot.”

Some protestors held up signs including one that read, “Down with the high cost of living.”

Click to play video: 'U.S. has dispatched small team to Haiti in response to kidnapping: State Department' U.S. has dispatched small team to Haiti in response to kidnapping: State Department
U.S. has dispatched small team to Haiti in response to kidnapping: State Department – Oct 18, 2021

Demonstrators clashed with police in some areas, with officers firing tear gas that mixed with the heavy black smoke rising from burning tires that served as barricades.

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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.”

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Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this story.

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