Understand the motives behind most kidnaps.
Learn what you should do if your Principal is kidnapped
The risk of kidnap can be high wherever you are in the world and the list of high-risk countries is constantly changing. Presently the threat is greatest in parts of Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Kidnappers can act alone but are predominantly highly organised terrorist or criminal groups, motivated by political aims or, much more commonly, for cash. In many countries, employees of international organisations, even if the organisations are charities, are attractive targets due to the high profile of those organisations.
One of the main reasons that some people employ Bodyguards is because they have a very real fear of themselves or their loved ones being kidnapped. Anyone who is known to be rich is in danger of being kidnapped by criminals who want to extort money from their friends or family. Kidnapping for enrichment is an age old crime that today has matured into an established worldwide multi-million dollar business – for a business it is. There are other motives for kidnap and world leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin have taken westerners as hostages for political motives. Presently in Iraq kidnapping is endemic. Statistically, kidnapping, in all its forms, all over the world is on the increase.
The actual offence of kidnapping became law in the UK as late as1982 when the “Taking of Hostages” Act of 1982 received royal assent. The Act provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment on conviction. Briefly, the Act provides legislation where is becomes an offence to: “Detain any person in order to compel a state, International Government Organisation or person to do or abstain from doing any act, or threaten to kills, injure or continue the detention.”
The Motives for Kidnap
There are three Principal motives for the taking of hostages:
3. Emotional and Mental Illness
The taking of hostages in the act of other criminal offences, such as making a getaway from a bank robbery, is the most common cause of criminal kidnap in the UK. However, there are many recorded incidents in which persons have been held against a demand of payment. Figures supplied by Kroll Inc. a leading American risk consulting company, say that of the worldwide 15,000 reported kidnaps each year 75 percent of those are resolved by a ransom payment. Figures like this reinforce the feeling that kidnap is a business that is here to stay.
Less common in the UK and European mainland but very common in some countries, the hostages are frequently taken and then held in the hope that some political advantage or concession may be gained. Often the hostage can be held against a demand for the release of prisoners. We have all been sickened by terrorists’ home made videos of hostages admitting under duress to crimes, resulting in their being tortured and murdered. You do not have to be rich and have Bodyguards to be kidnapped by terrorists. Very often just the right skin colour or continent is enough to make a kidnapper choose you as a victim.
The emotional or mentally ill motive
Within this category fall the cases such as the abduction of children by estranged parents. Occasionally, cases are reported of mentally ill persons who abduct children for no other reason than a desire to satisfy an emotional need. In this category we can also place the sexual pervert who abducts children for no other reason than sexual, let’s hope they rot in hell.
For those criminals carrying out a kidnap for ransom it can be a difficult and complicated process, which requires careful planning and the close collaboration of around a dozen or more people. The primary objective for any kidnappers is to discover who is actually worth kidnapping, i.e. victims who can pay a ransom.
The kidnappers’ team will carry out studies of the victims, their backgrounds, their business, properties, employers and of course, their financial status. The kidnappers also need people to locate and maintain a secure place to hold the victim until the ransom is paid. They need people to serve the victim food and drink. Importantly they need people to speak, usually on the telephone, with the victim’s family or business in order to make the ransom demand and to agree on the arrangements for it to be paid. They need people to plan the delivery of the ransom and to serve as guards as the ransom is delivered. Clearly, kidnapping for ransom is not a one man crime and the gangs involved can be very large.
To be a success the kidnap they need to know exactly where that victim will be at a given moment. They must study their potential victims in order to make sure they or their loved ones or company bosses have sufficient money or have access to it. They will also study the routes and routines of their potential victims to see if that person will be in a particular place at a particular time. They will also be looking at the victim’s security arrangement (if any) and look at where is at its weakest. To do all this work, the kidnapper requires competent people to work with and a considerable amount of time and effort. Kidnapping is a risky business to be in; kidnappers need to be very careful not to get caught planning or actually carrying out the kidnap.
The initial surveillance will usually occur at a known location. This will more than likely be the residence; however, it could obviously start from the office, airport or hotel, etc. They want to determine exactly where the victim will be at a given moment and what his security will be like at that time. If they can do this, their operation will more often than not be successful. By the time the kidnappers are ready to carry out the kidnap, they may well have studied the victim and his family for up to six weeks. They will have planned in detail the kidnap and the place where the victim will be held. They will have practised the operations a number of times right there in front of you. You just have to notice it!
I read somewhere that 90% of kidnaps are successful. That means that in 90 percent of cases the victim, and the security team if they had one, missed a lot of surveillance. Over 80 percent of kidnaps take place on a weekday morning. Mornings are when routines are easy to establish and very hard to vary. The trip to work and the school run are the most likely time to be ambushed and kidnapped. To avoid being noticed you must not set patterns. School may start at 9am. Varying your times by 10 minutes is not enough; whole hours are needed. If you are doing the school run in an area with a high risk of kidnap your travel must be unpredictable. Let’s say school starts at 9am. On Monday, leave at 7am; on Tuesday, try 10am; Wednesday, arrange for ‘home school’; on Thursday, go in for 9am and Friday, maybe 8am. Remember the message; varying a time by minutes is just not enough.
Some people might say that all we do by varying the times so much is to make the snatch squads’ brief a little harder but still as easy. The kidnappers’ view of such a routine might be: “The victim, along with one Bodyguard, leaves for school almost every weekday sometime between 6am and 10am.” To a certain extent that is true but they would be missing the whole point, or should I say two points of varying routes and timings.
1. If we have an unpredictable travel pattern we have much less chance of being noticed and chosen as a victim in the first place. If we are not noticed than we are not going to be chosen as a victim.
2. When we vary our routes and timings we are sending a message to anyone that does have us under surveillance that we are ‘doing our job’. This may well make them choose some other, softer target that has no security, or shows a complete lack of awareness and professionalism by not varying times and routes.
Surveillance, and especially good surveillance is hard to spot, but you can see it. You just have to look hard and look a lot. Surveillance detection is an extremely important part of the Close Protection Officer’s function and is covered in elsewhere on this site.
If 90% of kidnaps are successful then a lot of surveillance goes un-notced
Many countries have a high incidence of kidnap. You must do your homework when travelling abroad. If the kidnaps are carried out with criminal intentions, discuss with the client about keeping a low profile, maybe hiring a four-wheel drive rather than a stretch limo. If you think the boss stands out and might become a target for criminals you are not doing your job if you don’t at least warn him of the possible consequences. If the risk is real then suggest kidnap insurance (insurance is only useful when the victim is kidnapped by criminals; however, the small print on the policies needs to be read (and understood) as this can minimise the potential loss. If the incident of kidnap has political motives, early research must be carried out. Maybe they are only kidnapping Americans, or it could be that they might be interested in any westerner. You must know whether your client would be a good target for them. If so, you must plan your trip carefully and employ as much security as necessary.
Kidnap and Ransom Insurance
Your threat assessment must be carried out thoroughly. If you deduct that there is even the slightest risk of kidnap for profit or otherwise then you should suggest to your client that they consult with a kidnap for ransom specialist. In the event of your client’s kidnap, there may well be some very conflicting interests from the many different parties that might be involved, which might include you as the Bodyguard (if you weren’t taken out at the time of the kidnap!), the client’s family, friends, fellow employees or employers. There may well be involvement from local government and local indigenous law enforcement agencies and diplomats. The kidnap for ransom specialist would use their expertise and experience of countless other kidnap situations. These professionals will act as a central filtering point for all the people involved. Their experience in a situation can prove to be invaluable as they advise on how to work and deal with the authorities, how to handle the media and how to manage the family of the victim. Kidnap for ransom negotiations are for the experts and should never be attempted by you! As a Close Protection Officer you need to involve these experts as soon as possible.
You should compile a ‘kidnap file’, which will include good quality recent photos of your client along with any relevant personal details.
Part of the service provided by kidnap for ransom consultants will be to provide detailed ‘what if’ information, that will not only prevent kidnap in the first place but advise on what to do if you are taken hostage and prepare you or your Principal for the physiological and psychological effects of the illegal captivity.
In the absence of this professional advice you should, at the very minimum advise your Principal that if he is kidnapped he should heed the following advice:
- Try to control emotions (much easier said than done, but it must be said).
- Do not offer resistance once it is clear that the kidnap has been successful.
- Do attempt to build a relationship with the captors, but start very slowly.
- Be prepared to accept isolation.
- Do not do anything to antagonise the captors.
- Follow all instructions implicitly.
- Do not make threats or promises.
Whenever the risk of kidnap is anticipated you should compile a ‘kidnap file’, which will include good quality recent photos of your client along with any relevant personal details, e.g. medical history and current medication. You should set up a means of verifying whether the kidnap is genuine – a pre-arranged code given to the Principal so that he/she might relay back should the kidnap happen. You should know about any insurance, and have the emergency contact details of the kidnap consultants.
The most prominent kidnap for ransom specialists are, in no particular order:
Kroll Europe, Middle East & Africa
10 Fleet Place
London EC4M 7RB
Phone: 44 (0) 207 029 5000
Fax: 44 (0) 207 029 5001
Tel: + 44 20 7970 2100
Fax: + 44 20 7970 2222