A Haitian man identifying himself as the leader of the gang that kidnapped a group of American and Canadian missionaries said in a video posted on YouTube that he was willing to kill “these Americans” if he does not get what he needs.
The speaker in the video, dressed in a purple suit, is recognisable as the man known in Haiti by the alias Lamo Sanjou, the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang that authorities say is behind the abduction of the missionaries last weekend.
The 16 Americans and one Canadian – including five children – were on a trip organised by the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.
The missionaries were not present in the video.
Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel told Reuters this week that the kidnappers were demanding $1m (€850,000) per person for the release of the missionaries.
The missionaries’ seizure has focused global attention on Haiti’s dire kidnapping problem, which has worsened amid economic and political crises in the Caribbean nation that have led to spiralling violence.
The video includes footage of what appear to be five dead men laying in coffins, who the man described as “fallen soldiers”, blaming their deaths on police chief Leon Charles.
“Leon Charles made me cry, gentlemen. When it was my turn, I cried my eyes out, and when I make you cry, I will make you cry tears of blood,” he said.
Haitian media outlet Le Nouvelliste said Mr Charles had presented his resignation. A Haitian police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House said it would do all it could to help the missionaries.
“We will do everything that we can to help resolve the situation,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
A senior state department official told reporters that the video was legitimate.
“If you are a kidnapper, your job is to say those kind of things,” the official said. “We need to work with our Haitian law enforcement partners and the families and the institutions to try and move this process forward to a safe resolution.”
Christian Aid Ministries said it was aware of the video but would not comment until the hostage negotiators determined that any such remarks would not jeopardise the well-being of the group.
The 400 Mawozo began as small-time local thieves and rose to become one of Haiti’s most feared gangs, controlling a swathe of countryside east of the capital Port-au-Prince, according to security experts.