Defined as; “taking (someone) away illegally by force, typically to obtain a ransom,” is a growing problem worldwide affecting thousands of people daily. Criminals no longer only target the rich and powerful, but business people and even more impoverished families to raise capital.
The threat of kidnapping today stems from both criminal and terrorism, and the best way to survive an attempted kidnapping is to take measures to avoid being the victim. A proactive approach is necessary to avoid giving the “attackers” of surprise. To take a proactive approach, it will be essential to do a thorough risk assessment of your vulnerabilities and raise your level of awareness. Unfortunately, many people do not take the threat seriously until it’s too late and thus become one of between 5,000 to 10,000 people kidnapped per year. This is estimated to be a low figure as the majority of kidnappings occurring worldwide do not get reported to law enforcement.
Kidnaping differs from hostage-taking in that hostage-takers incite a confrontation with the authorities forcing them to either adhere to the hostage-takers demands or take action to neutralize them. Furthermore, the hostage-takers intended target is the audience affected by the hostage’s detention and not the hostages themselves.
Statistics show that executive kidnappings often occur close to the in-country hotel or residence or on route to, and from the airport.
Four Types of Kidnappings
Kidnappings can be broken up into four operational levels, and these include the following;
- Simple kidnapping — (Usually spontaneous with little formal organization)
- Express kidnapping (high to moderate levels of operational organization, often using unsophisticated techniques)
- Extortive kidnapping (high to moderate levels of formal organization)
- Political kidnapping (very high levels of formal operational organization)
Simple kidnappings are usually the result of a ruined robbery, burglary, or carjacking. They are generally straightforward, spontaneous, and unplanned. Because they are unplanned, there is a higher risk to the victims during the kidnap attempt. Kidnappers in the category are usually inexperienced or are improvising on the ground, making them unpredictable and highly dangerous.
Express kidnappers focus primarily on financial gain, and they frequently occur in the vicinity of outdoor automatic teller machine. Victims may be held for a couple of hours or days before being forced to withdraw cash as a ransom payment. They are usually released shortly after that.
Express kidnapping can turn into a long-term kidnap for ransom abduction if the kidnappers find that the victim has a large amount of cash in his or her account or has more exclusive credit cards that will need time to clear out.
Extortive kidnappings are usually carried out by career criminals that plan the kidnapping in detail. They are profit-driven and often target high-value individual or a connected family member that will make the payment and collection of a ransom more likely.
Sometimes victims are killed even after a ransom is paid as the gang attempts to cover their tracks. Female victims stand a higher risk of being sexually assaulted by gang members.
Victims may also be sold to terrorist groups instead of returned to the families.
In political kidnappings, victims are chosen to apply pressure on government/s and, because the kidnappers know from the beginning that their initial demands will likely not be met, these kidnappings can last many months or even years.
Political kidnappers are usually a part of a terrorist group or are associated with them, and they are well organized and plan and rehearse the kidnapping in detail beforehand to minimize risk to their members.
Political kidnappers operate in groups and are heavily armed, well equipped, and are prepared to kill to achieve their desired aim. They also usually hold deep convictions about their cause and may willingly give up their lives for it.
Should a government not cede to their demands, the victims may be killed to send a “message”.
- Males are overwhelmingly the perpetrators in executive kidnappings.
- Kidnappers may be between 29 and 35 years of age, well-educated and dedicated, and some may be willing to die for their cause, whether political or even financial.
- The majority of kidnappers will be a member of the country’s indigenous population and have inconspicuous features that can blend in anywhere.
- Kidnappers usually are physically fit, know self-defence and may have military or security training in weapons use, tactics and explosives.
- Most kidnappers utilize high levels of planning typically involving target intelligence gathering, casing, preparation and rehearsal.
Behavioural and operational characteristics of a kidnapping gang
- Most often, kidnappers will be well-equipped, well-led, motivated to win and highly adaptive.
- Kidnappers are commonly quick thinking, lack emotionalism and have a high degree of dedication and discipline.
- They have been known to display courage and confidence during operations.
- Their patience, determination and perseverance are based on politically centred issues or financial gain.
- They are well-schooled in the languages and cultures of the regions covered by their group and are skilled in a variety of kidnap tasks.
- Kidnappers have a high degree of emotional self-control and a low degree of empathy and sensitivity.
- Kidnappers are generally of an age that places them in their years of greatest physical strength, endurance and durability.
- They typically can blend with the local populace.
- In numerous cases, they are indigenous inhabitants of the general population, which gives them a key advantage over their targets.
Professional kidnappers generally have a higher proficiency in tactics and weapons use and will have an understanding and ability to conduct surveillance. Professional criminals have a broader range of skills, funding, and life experience when compared to new or inexperienced groups.
Organizational Characteristics of Kidnappers Equipment
The type of equipment used will depend on the sophistication of the gang and personal backgrounds of the members. Availability will also play a role and will affect what the group makes use of. A gang may utilize firearms, radios, explosives, vehicles, restraining devices, forced entry tools, surveillance equipment, and even anaesthetics.
Transportation will depend on the purpose of use and availability. Generally, the availability and budget of the gang will dictate what is used and varies from privately owned or leased vehicles to vehicles that have been stolen explicitly to carry out the operation.
Although most kidnappers also receive financing from other criminal activity, they will still employ operational assets only as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. Therefore, kidnap operations concentrate on economy of personnel and money management and balance the likelihood of losses against the investment value of the kidnap target.
Specialized kidnapping gangs are always on the lookout for potential victims that fall into a particular category. Victims include executives, tourists, and employee’s working for international corporations, NGO’s, and upper and middle-class families. A target vulnerability assessment will be conducted that will determine if the victim has security measures in place if there are vulnerabilities, the victim’s routine and habits, and areas where a kidnaping can take place with the best chance of succeeding.
Some points that are considered when selecting victims include do they;
- Appear wealthy and unprotected (soft target)
- Keep their head down and look at the sidewalk (poor situational awareness)
- Seem frightened without reason.
- Appear likely they would not put up a fight.
- Can be surprised and are unaware of the surroundings.
- Frequently utilize taxis not affiliated with a reputable company.
- Consume large amounts of alcohol in public restaurants and bars.
- Regularly use outdoor street ATMs instead of ones in safer locations such as in shopping centres, banks and hotel lobbies.
- Focus on the task at hand when using an ATM.
- Have set routes in travel and times of travel, which helps kidnappers to know where he or she is most vulnerable.
- Are accessible, predictable and unaware.
- Put their names on mailboxes or outside walls of their house.
- Jog or walk every day at the same time or the same place.
- Clean their vehicles, cut lawns or have a family barbecue the same day every week.
- Shop the same day of each week at the same shopping centre.
- Travel to and from home on the same route and at the same time.
- Go to church services at the same time and place each week.
- Sit in the same seat in a vehicle, eatery, bar, church, etc.
- Take the same route to work every day, arrive at work at the same time; go to lunch at the same time or leave work at the same time each day.
- Pick up the newspaper or mail at the same time every day.
- Walk the dog along the identical route or at the same time every day.
- Go to the same restaurants or bars or frequent only Western restaurants or bars.
- Park their vehicle in the same location when going to work, church, social events, etc.
- Don’t observe the behaviour of individuals for indicators of possible aggression against them.
- Regularly perform tasks that cause distractions while walking such as reading newspapers, maps or talking on cell phones, etc.
- Executives who are travelling to potential risky overseas locations or sense an inherent risk within their own countries and do not employ the professional services of an executive protection specialist.
To gather information to assist with the planning of a kidnapping, the gang needs to carry out surveillance of the intended target in the weeks or days before the intended kidnapping. Many different measures will be employed from using social media to following the target and watching the target’s residence or place of work.
The kidnappers will look for places or habits that make the victim vulnerable to a kidnapping. To carry out the surveillance, the gang may use a cover story to give them a reason to be in the area if stopped. The best chance of preventing a kidnapping is to pick up surveillance activity before an actual kidnapping is attempted.
Execution of a kidnapping attempt
The majority of kidnappings occur on weekday mornings while the target is travelling in a vehicle between his or her residence and work.
To overpower the victim, the gang will use surprise and maximum aggression to gain the advantage. A successful kidnapping can last a mere 15 seconds to execute, and the victim will be tied up and blinded folded before being transported to a pre-determined meeting place or a holding area.
The victim may be kept disorientated during this time, not being allowed to know the time of the day or observe the environment. The kidnappers will guard the victim during this time, and male or female victims may be sexually molested during this time. In the case of political kidnappings, the victims may be tortured or beaten.
In some cases, gangs kill the victim so that they do not have to care for them or to ensure no escape is possible and this is one the reasons why proof of life is demanded during negotiations. Regardless of whether the ransom is paid or not, kidnappers may still be tempted to kill the victim to cover their tracks.
Ransom demands depend on the ability of the victim’s representatives to pay the requested amount. Corporations that operate in unstable areas are at risk and usually have insurance policies covering Kidnapping and Ransom. When a kidnapping occurs, the Company will implement kidnaping standard operating procedures to deal with the problem, and these may include expert crises assistance, the inclusion of experienced negotiators, interpreters, financial and ransom in transit coverage, and death and disability coverage.
Victims with kidnap and ransom coverage are four times as likely to survive a kidnapping. It is, however prudent not to advertise the fact that you have the coverage in case you become a victim due to having it.
Preventive employee security training and kidnap and ransom insurance are two of the best ways of reducing the risk of, or surviving a kidnapping. A combination of both should be utilized to mitigate the risks associated with kidnappings.
Ways to Prevent a Kidnapping
- Don’t assume its only wealthy people that get kidnapped. Middle-class executives and thier families are the most common target for kidnappings.
- Don’t become complacent or develope afalse sense of security, especially if you’re a frequent traveller, or an expatriate stationed abroad for an extended period. There are always hidden dangers.
- Don’t publicize travel plans and details. That can be a challenge in an era of over-sharing, especially in social media such as Facebook and Twitter, but increasingly, kidnappers monitor social media.
- Do conduct pre-travel due diligence. Get current security informationon your travel destinations and travel warnings from official sources, like the US State Department, or reputable corporate security companies.
- To maintain alow profilewhen travelling and don’t advertise your wealth or status. Dress down. Blend in. Leave flashy clothes and jewels at home. Don’t use expensive cars.
- Don’t flaunt your nationality. Especially if you’re American. In today’s world, American citizenship may make you the target of terrorist kidnappers.
- Keep your passport safe. Know the location of your nearest embassy.
- Vary your times and routine. Avoid routine by changing your routes or timings often.
- Do only useofficialtaxi stands, preferably use hotel taxis. Don’t hail cabs on the street. If you step in a random taxi abroad, you risk driving away in your kidnapper’s vehicle.
- Always beaware of your surroundingswhilst avoiding isolated or rural areas.
- Do bewary of local authorities. In some countries, corrupt police officials are involved in kidnappings.