Incidents of kidnap are rising around the world. While the threat is small statistically, Australians living, working and travelling abroad can be targets.
Warren Rodwell, from Sydney, was seized from his home in the southern Philippine town of Ipil on 5 December 2011. His captors – possibly the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic extremist group founded in the 1990s with seed money from Al-Qaeda – are reportedly demanding a ransom payment of USD2 million. Australian authorities are working closely with the Philippines and in close contact with Rodwell’s family.
The Australian Government confirms kidnapping is a definite threat in many parts of the world. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has provided assistance in a number of kidnapping cases involving Australians, such as:
- kidnapping for ransom;
- kidnapping with political elements and demands; and
- kidnapping by pirates.
Countries where the threat of kidnapping is particularly prevalent, and where DFAT’s travel advisories specifically warn of the threat of kidnapping, are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen and the Indian ocean, especially near the coast of Somalia.
A recent article in the New York Times says kidnapping for ransom is on the rise in many countries. The Mexican government reported in 2011 a leap of more than 300% in kidnappings since 2005. The US State Department website, which tracks worldwide crime trends, warns of “alarming increases” in kidnapping in Venezuela, and that abductions in Pakistan “continued to increase dramatically nationwide.”
The paper reports that statistics can be difficult to gather and the number of victims is likely underestimated.
The New York Times article mentions the case of Dutch marketing consultant Edo de Ronde, who was lured to South Africa from the Netherlands last year after a colleague at a Chinese trading company he works with answered a fake ad for scrap metal.
Travelling to Johannesburg to clinch the deal, de Ronde was kidnapped and held to ransom by the criminals and conmen behind the offer. After being imprisoned and shackled, with guns held to his head, de Ronde was released after two days of terror only after his company paid a ransom of more than USD30,000.
According to the paper, kidnapping has sparked a parallel boom in security consultants, anti-kidnap advisors and “secretive consultants who manage hostage situations and local outfits offering abduction prevention courses”
Consultants advise travellers not to draw attention to themselves. “Consider what you wear and drive, don’t be loud and rowdy. And don’t tell strangers too much about yourself.”
DFAT offers similar advice: “If you do decide to travel to those areas of these countries where there is a particular threat of kidnapping or to remote areas where we strongly advise you not to travel, you should ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance.
“Any road travel should be undertaken in daylight, in convoy and with a local guide. Kidnappings can also occur at sea and pirates have kidnapped people from commercial vessels and pleasure craft (such as yachts). You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times and watch for any suspicious or unusual activity.”
The Australian Government’s longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians.
“Terrorist and criminal groups both use kidnapping as a tactic to achieve their goals,” DFAT notes. “The difference between a criminal and a terrorist group is sometimes negligible. Terrorist groups often target foreigners. In some instances, terrorists have killed their kidnap victims when their demands were not met. Foreign employees, particularly those in the oil and mining sectors, aid and humanitarian workers, tourists and expatriates are regularly targeted.”
Pirates have kidnapped hundreds of people, usually holding them for ransom, DFAT points out. In South America, terrorist groups are known to kidnap for ransom. Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world.
DFAT notes some new trends: “Criminal groups often kidnap tourists who are forced to withdraw money from ATMs. This is known as ‘express kidnapping’. It is common in countries in Central and South America, especially Mexico and Colombia, but does occur in other countries. In some cases victims have been killed or injured while attempting to resist the kidnappers. The use of ATMs located inside banks, hotels and shopping centres during daylight hours may reduce the risk. Some criminals pose as unlicensed taxi drivers. Once the victim is in the cab they are kidnapped until they agree to withdraw money.
“Another trend is ‘virtual kidnapping’. This is when extortionists, posing as law enforcement officials, call the family or friends of the victim and demand payment in return for release of the allegedly arrested family member or friend. You should avoid divulging financial, business or personal information to strangers.”
Recent kidnappings listed by DFAT on its smarttraveller.gov.au website include:
On 15 April 2012, a Swiss national was kidnapped in Timbuktu, Mali.
- On 16 March 2012, a Swiss national was kidnapped in Hodeida, Yemen.
- On 14 March 2012, two Italian nationals were kidnapped in Odisha (Orissa) state, India.
- On 26 January 2012, a German national was kidnapped in Kano, Nigeria.
- On 22 January 2012, a foreign humanitarian worker was kidnapped in Naushahro Feroz, Sindh, in Pakistan.
- On 19 January 2012, two foreign humanitarian workers were kidnapped in Multan, Punjab, Pakistan.
- On 16 January 2012, two foreign tourists were kidnapped in the Danakil region of Ethiopia. Five foreign tourists were killed in the attack.
- On 5 January 2012, a humanitarian aid worker with an international organisation was kidnapped in Quetta, Pakistan.
- On 5 December 2011, an Australian citizen was kidnapped from Zamboanga Sibugay, in the Philippines.
- On 25 November 2011, three western tourists were kidnapped from central Timbuktu in Mali.
- On 24 November 2011, two French nationals were kidnapped from the town of Hombori in Mopti province, Mali.
- On 25 October 2011, a US and a Danish aid worker were kidnapped near Galkayo in the Somali region of Puntland. They were freed after a military operation in January 2012.
- On 22 October 2011, three European aid workers were kidnapped from the Rabuni refugee camp in western Algeria.
- On 13 October 2011, two Spanish aid workers were kidnapped from the Dadaab refugee camp, near the border with Somalia.
- On 1 October 2011, a French national was kidnapped by an armed gang from Manda Island (adjacent to Lamu Island) Kenya. The victim subsequently died in captivity.
- On 11 September 2011, a British national was kidnapped and another killed at a resort north of Lamu in Kenya. The surviving victim was released in March 2012.
- In August 2011, a US aid worker was kidnapped from his house in Lahore, Pakistan.
- In July 2011, two Swiss tourists were kidnapped while travelling through Baluchistan, Pakistan. They were released in March 2012.
- In March 2011, a Danish family was kidnapped, by pirates, while sailing their yacht between the Maldives and the Red Sea.
Written by ซ Peter Needham