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Headquarters of Christian Aid Ministries in Millersburg, Ohio. Source: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters.
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  • The leader of a gang that kidnapped a group of missionaries last week said he is willing to kill “these Americans” if he does not get what he needs
  • Earlier this week, Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said the gang was demanding US$1 million (A$1.34 million) per person for their release
  • Among the 16 Americans and one Canadian are five children, including an eight-month-old baby, who were abducted after their bus was hijacked on Saturday
  • The abduction has focused attention on Haiti’s growing kidnapping problem, which has soared amid economic and political crises

In a video posted to YouTube on Thursday, a Haitian man who identified himself as the leader of a gang that kidnapped a group of missionaries last weekend said he was willing to kill “these Americans” if he does not get what he needs.

Dressed in a purple suit, he was recognisable as a figure known in Haiti by the alias Lamo Sanjou, the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang that authorities say is behind the abduction.

Among the 16 Americans and one Canadian are five children, including an eight-month-old baby, said Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, the organisation the missionaries are from. All were kidnapped when their bus was hijacked on Saturday in an area called Croix-des-Bouquets, east of the capital Port-au-Prince, shortly after visiting an orphanage.

The missionaries were not present in the video.

“If I don’t find what I need, these Americans, I’d rather kill them all, and I’ll unload a big gun in the head of each of them,” Sanjou said.

Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said this week the kidnappers were demanding US$1 million (A$1.34 million) per person — US$17 million (A$22.77 million) in total — for their release.

The abduction has focused attention on Haiti’s growing kidnapping problem, which has soared amid economic and political crises in the Caribbean nation.

In the first nine months of this year alone, there were 628 reported incidents, according to the nonprofit Centre for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH). The actual figures, however, are likely to be much higher since many Haitians do not report abductions, fearing reprisals from the gangs.

These gangs have been steadily expanding their territories in recent months, and have grown even more brazen since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July.

Their leaders — mostly notably Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, leader of a gang coalition called G9 — have taken on increasingly public roles, offering extensive interviews broadcast online and at times publicly threatening politicians.

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