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Haitian gang leader threatens to kill abducted missionaries if ransom isn't paid

Video circulating on social media in Haiti shows a gang leader threatening to kill 17 kidnapped American and Canadian missionaries if ransom isn't paid, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The missionaries were abducted Saturday near Port-au-Prince after leaving an orphanage. The hostages are members of the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, and range in age from 8 months to 48.

The video, which appears to have been filmed on Wednesday night at a funeral, began making the rounds on Thursday. It features Wilson Joseph, head of the 400 Mawozo gang, saying, "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." The gang is asking for $17 million in ransom — $1 million per person.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Gang violence has been a growing problem in Haiti, and exploded following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July, which sent the country into chaos. Local human rights organizations say gangs are routinely carrying out abductions and other criminal acts, and now control as much as two-thirds of Haiti's territory, the Journal reports.

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Thursday said the Biden administration has been "relentlessly focused" on the kidnappings, and will do "everything that we can to help resolve this situation." She added that it is "absolutely essential that this security dynamic change if Haiti is going to make real progress."