There’s a great book on the street titled “The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by Seal Team Six.” On October 25, 2011, Jessica and a colleague were kidnapped at gunpoint and held for ransom by a band of Somali pirates. Learn more about it atNPR.org.
The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people are kidnapped throughout the world every year. Economic turmoil and political instability are key factors contributing to this rising trend. The problem has wide security, social, and economic implications.
Strategic analysts have estimated the value of business for those criminals conducting kidnapping to be over $500 million per year. Most of the kidnappings go unreported for fear of retaliation, negative press coverage, or to protect other business within the country.
Taking hostages or kidnapping is generally a low-risk venture for the abductor. In Jessica Buchanan’s case, it started out with what appeared to be a car-jacking, which is common. In the usual car-jacking, the assailants would take over the vehicle, then drive you outside of town and let you walk back (after they rob you of everything you have). Instead, they kept driving and she soon realized this was actually a kidnapping.
The captors usually have good reasons for selecting targets. You may have been under surveillance, possibly for months in advance. You may have even been double-crossed by a local national friend or someone that has routine access to you. Many Non-Governmental Organization workers feel protected as they have personal relationships with the local people. Sadly, those relationships are often not enough to protect you since the criminals have control over the area. The reasons range from robbery to slavery. It may be political, drug-related, or just opportunistic on the part of the captor. Of course, there is also a chance you were just vulnerable and an easy target.
The decision to run or fight is up to you. If the attackers are armed, then you shouldn’t resist. They don’t really care about you. Instead, they care about your value to them. Their motivation may be political, religious, or simply for the income.
Some individuals are perceived as high-value due to professional or personal circumstances and are considered profitable from a criminal perspective. For example, if you have routine access to significant corporate proprietary information – or they perceive you do – you’re vulnerable. If you think your company would pay a ransom to get you back, then you fall into this category too. You may even be targeted if you’re a lower-level worker to test the company’s response to ransom demands.
Think about and recognize events that may signal the start of an attack, robbery, or confrontation. Some examples could be:
Your abductor may be dressed as a police or military official or as a service employee (e.g., maintenance staff). It will probably be impossible for you to tell a fake uniform from something authentic in most cases. These “costumes” also allow the abductor to carry large bags that may contain weapons or other tools to detain you. Examples of tools in the bag could include zip-ties, duct tape, and cloth bags to cover your head.
If you’re attacked in your vehicle, then try to draw attention by sounding the horn without subjecting yourself, passengers, or pedestrians to harm. This will not prevent your abduction, but it might create witnesses. When the event starts, try to put another vehicle between you and the pursuer as an effort to increase your chances for getting away. Most abductions will be done with multiple actors, so you will likely be quickly outnumbered.
Even after the ransom is paid, the danger is probably not over. Criminal groups may kill or abandon you to eliminate the need to meet those that paid the ransom and put themselves at risk. They might even sell you to another group for a quick and risk-free gain. In Jessica’s Buchanan’s case, her captors constantly threatened to sell her to Al Shabaab terrorist organization.
Fortunately, this situation ended on a positive note. Unfortunately, abduction is common and something you have to strongly consider if you place yourself in harm’s way.
For more information on dealing with captivity, see our blogpost here.
For more than 30 years, Steve was an intelligence community professional who traveled and lived throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central America. He now uses his experiences and formal training to help people overcome their reluctance to travel by giving them the solid, reliable information they can use to plan effectively, reduce risk, react to danger, and return home safe.