New Kidnapping Trends on the Global Stage
The following summary was sourced from Frank Grimm, Director of Crisis Response Services for Constellis, an international security company, at the June 2017 Hostage US Annual Washington, DC Seminar. The material is shared on an informational basis only and does not infer any formal relationship nor verification with the provider.
Statistics of Kidnapped Foreign Nationals – March-April 2017
Constellis has recorded a total of 193 kidnapped foreign nationals (March-April 2017). 72% of them were kidnapped in Africa, 10% in the Americas, 10% in the Middle East, 6% in Asia and the Pacific and 2% in Europe.
Kidnapping is continuously evolving; spreading geographically and numerically on the international stage. According to Constellis, 25 countries rank as either high or very high for kidnapping. These include non-conflict countries and sizable economies with effective governmental frameworks, indicating that kidnapping has morphed into a worldwide phenomenon.
Additionally, Constellis has identified a number of countries on a consolidated “watch list”, where kidnapping numbers are on the rise, such as Argentina, Turkey, Kenya and Madagascar; and countries with decreasing kidnapping rates, but where the threat remains, including Mozambique, Colombia and Brazil.
Current Global Trends
In 2017, a number of Latin American countries have reported important increases in kidnapping rates, partly due to political instability and the economic crisis sweeping the region. Hostage taking is mainly carried out by criminal groups, mostly for profit, but on occasion with a political element. Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela have been identified as regional leaders. Additionally, this region has one of the highest number of short-term kidnappings, to include what is commonly known as “paseo millionario” (millionaire tour), where a victim is taken to ATMs, both before and after midnight and forced to withdraw the maximum allowable amount. Another form of extortion on the rise is Virtual Kidnapping, where kidnappers attempt to extort a ransom by falsely claiming they have abducted a loved one. In Mexico, tourists have been particularly targeted, often at their hotels. In Venezuela, against a backdrop of rising criminal activity and reduced interest and capacity on the part of authorities, expatriates have been increasingly targeted for kidnapping, usually for large ransoms. Moreover, thousands of undocumented migrants continue to disappear every day throughout Latin America, targeted by numerous threat actors along their way to the US. In these particular cases, their lack of documentation and informal methods of travel make it challenging not only to ascertain their location, but also to report cases and provide updates from authorities to their family members.
While kidnapping levels in Europe remain lower than other regions in the world, isolated incidents are reported, in many cases targeting business people involved in legal or personal disputes or individuals with links to illicit activities. Additionally the rise in the terrorist threat in Western Europe could potentially lead to an increase in kidnapping. A number of failed cases in the UK last year outside military facilities have underscored this potential threat. In addition, migrants and refugees are being targeted in entry-point countries, including those in and around the Mediterranean. Turkey has been a particular hotspot for these types of incidents where a number of Pakistani nationals have been kidnapped for ransom in the last six months. Meanwhile in Spain, Virtual Kidnapping has recorded a notable rise in the past year, mostly run out of Latin America, particularly from Chilean prisons, where prisoners have access to cell phones, allowing them to call victims and orchestrate players on both sides of the Atlantic. Furthermore, in Ukraine (against a background of conflict and instability) a number of foreign nationals, such as UN staff and diplomats, have been victims of kidnapping. This is especially true in the eastern part of the country. Azerbaijani businessmen have also been frequent victims of kidnap for ransom in the Ukraine as they have been targeted for their perceived affluence.
The conflict in Syria, Iraq and Yemen has created an environment conducive to the spread of kidnapping. The absence of a single state authority in these conflict zones and the lack of even the most basic law-enforcement has created a highly complex situation where the existence of a plethora of armed groups with diverse goals make kidnapping far more difficult to track. One of the most prominent actors is the Islamic State group (IS), which looks to engage in high-profile kidnappings for propaganda and political gain, as well as for profit. In one particularly significant incident, IS militants raided a nursing home in Aden (March 2016), kidnapping an Indian priest who is still being held captive.
Increasing conflict and political upheaval within Africa has led to an increase in kidnapping numbers. Libya accounts for the highest recorded levels of kidnapping of foreigners since 2014. This has mainly been due to the incidence of mass kidnappings, usually targeting unskilled workers. There has also been a resurgence of piracy because of the stagnant political situation.
Islamic militancy, particularly IS sympathizers, are increasing within Asia, prompting the emergence of a rising kidnapping threat. Foreign nationals are targeted, both by criminal and militant groups, with diverse goals. In Pakistan, foreign nationals are particularly targeted in tribal areas, where criminals and militants act with impunity. In Afghanistan, where threat actors profit from the growing instability, NGO workers (local and foreign) are common targets. The Philippines and eastern Malaysia also represent an increased threat with a growing number of hostage situations since 2014. These have principally been carried out by Islamic militants both inland and offshore.