This analysis has been republished with the kind permission of NYA International. It was originally published in the Global Kidnap Report – April 2016. To obtain a copy of the full report, go to http://www.nyainternational.com/enquiries and specify ‘Please send me a copy of Global Kidnap Report – April 2016’ in the message box.
Global Kidnap Report – April 2016
There continues to be a high kidnap threat in Libya amid widespread political instability and security concerns. On 23 April a Serbian engineer, Miroslav Tomic, was kidnapped in a remote area in eastern Libya close to the Egyptian border. Tomic, a maintenance engineer employed by a German company, was reportedly inspecting an oil field 1,200km from the capital Tripoli.
On 16 April the finance manager of Afriqiyah Airways was kidnapped in Tripoli. Siraj Fetouri was seized after arriving on a flight from Benghazi. The incident occurred days after the body of another kidnap victim was discovered in Tripoli on 14 April. Doctor Samir Shadi AlWarshafani was murdered despite his family reportedly paying a USD73,387 ransom for his release.
In line with previous trends politicians have also been targeted. During April it was reported that an unknown group attempted to kidnap former prime minister and current Presidential Council Member Ahmed Maiteeq in Tripoli. The attack killed at least one guard at Maiteeq’s residence. The UN-backed Government of National Accord responded after the failed attempt by increasing its military presence in the city.
Syria / Lebanon
In early April the Syrian government released US national Kevin Patrick Dawes. Dawes, a 33-year-old freelance photographer, was listed as a missing person by the FBI following his disappearance in September 2012 after crossing into Syria from neighbouring Turkey.
According to US officials the Czech government, which represents US interests in the country in the absence of any diplomatic mission, played a key role in securing Mr Dawes’s freedom. Russian officials were also involved in negotiations, taking direct custody of Mr Dawes following his release.
US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said the administration is also working to secure the release of Austin Tice and other missing or detained US nationals in Syria. The statement suggests authorities are aware of other US nationals but only Tice is currently being named publicly. Mr Tice, also a journalist, was reported as missing in August 2012. Tice subsequently appeared blindfolded in a video posted online a month after his abduction, but with no further communication since.
On 04 April at least 170 workers were abducted by IS militants following an attack on a cement factory in Syria. The victims were taken from their residence of the Al-Badia Cement Company on the outskirts of Dumeir, 40km east of Damascus. The area east of the capital has witnessed intense fighting between IS militants and government forces in recent weeks, with reports indicating IS suffered significant losses.
According to a statement released by IS, some of the victims were executed following their abduction for being non-Muslims and regime sympathisers. The majority of the remaining hostages were released on 08 April following mediation from local officials, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Local media reports suggest incidents of kidnapping and extortion targeting truck drivers in the vicinity of the Parviz – Khan border between Iran and Iraq’s Kurdistan Region are on the rise. On 25 April Rudaw news agency reported militias from the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces (Hashd al-Shaabi) are responsible for a spate of recent kidnappings in the area. According to one account, a family paid a USD7,800 ransom for two truck drivers allegedly abducted by a Hashd alShaabi militia and held in captivity for 40 days.
On 06 April the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed a member of the royal family and a Pakistani national had been released in Iraq. The pair were kidnapped with 24 other members of a Qatari hunting party in a desert area of southern Muthanna province in December 2015. It remains unknown whether a ransom was paid for the hostages’ release.
On 04 April the Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj confirmed Father Tom Uzhunnalil – kidnapped in March by suspected militants allied to IS in Aden – is alive. Speaking to representatives from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Minister Swaraj discounted recent reports suggesting the kidnappers had executed the priest on 25 March.
Pope Francis appealed for the release of Uzhunnalil on 10 April, further indicating the victim remains alive. According to the Indian TV channel IBN-CNN, the kidnappers sent a video to Indian officials demanding a significant ransom for the priest’s release.
On 16 April four employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were kidnapped in Kidal, northeast Mali. While one of the victims was released on 17 April, the three other humanitarian workers remain missing. The ICRC team were returning from a mission based in Abeibara when they were intercepted.
The Islamist group Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for the abductions and demanded the release of a suspected militant detained by French forces. The militant in question, Miyatene Ag Mayaris, was the former guide for the abductees. Mayaris was accompanying the humanitarian workers along with his apprentice when they were stopped near Abeibara village by French troops deployed as part of the Op BARKHANE force on 13 April.
On 22 April the three victims were released reportedly without condition, though it remains uncertain whether the militant was freed in exchange for the hostages.
The abductions occurred as Op BARKHANE has reportedly stepped-up operations, particularly in the Kidal region where the abductions took place. The recent spate of arrests of individuals suspected of having links with Islamist militants has in part alienated the local population, prompting protests against the foreign intervention in Kidal which have turned violent and led to several deaths. The aforementioned incident is likely directly linked to the general deterioration in relations between foreign forces and the local populace.
On 22 April the permanent secretary of the Osun State Ministry of Finance, Budget and Economic Planning was kidnapped along with a ministry director and her driver in Kogi state as they were driving from a joint World Bank-EU reform meeting in Abuja. They were reportedly released though the conditions were not disclosed.
Employees of extractive companies are targets for kidnappers. On 18 April three employees of the National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) were abducted in Kogi state. The company’s chief executive officer received a NGN30 million (USD150,716) ransom demand for their release. On 16 April a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) employee was kidnapped from his residence in Kaduna state.
Fulani herdsmen are suspected of perpetrating several kidnappings in April. On 21 April four Fulani gunmen kidnapped a non-academic staff member of Delta State University, requesting a NGN5 million (USD25,119) ransom for his release. On 20 April Fulani herdsmen reportedly kidnapped a police officer in Benue state following violent clashes with the Nigerian Army and police in Agatu local government area. On 16 April the Enugu state auditor was also kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen. He was released four days later after a NGN700,000 (USD3,516) ransom was delivered in person.
During the reporting period three hijackings occurred off Nigeria, resulting in the abduction of 10 crewmembers – two of which occurred on 11 April. The first targeted the MT PULI, resulting in the abduction of the captain, the chief officer, the chief engineer and three other crewmembers. All six crewmembers were reportedly released on 25 April. The second incident targeted the CMA CGM TURQUOISE, two crewmembers were kidnapped. The third hijacking reported on 19 April targeted the ARMADA TUAH 101, resulting in both the captain and chief engineer’s abduction.
Kenya / Somalia
In April it was reported that pirate groups are currently holding 46 foreign nationals in Somalia. Of these, 26 are crewmembers of Taiwanese trawler FV NAHAM 3 hijacked on 26 March 2012. A further 15 others were captured aboard the FV SIRAJ on 26 March 2015. The remaining five hostages consist of Kenyan soldiers and citizens seized on land by pirate groups. Their continued detention highlights the ability of groups to hold foreign nationals for extended durations.
The low number of recently recorded kidnappings in Somalia may be attributed to the combination of a limited number of foreign nationals in the country and diminished media coverage due to the dangerous reporting environment. Militia groups and al-Shabaab in particular have the capability to operate unrestricted throughout Somalia, resulting in a high kidnapping threat.
On 03 April Michel Rizk, a Lebanese-Belgian businessman kidnapped in Angola five days earlier, was released. The kidnappers had demanded a ransom of USD500,000 to secure the victim’s release. Lebanese officials confirmed Rizk’s release but did not disclose whether the ransom was paid.
Several incidents over the reporting period highlight the high kidnap threat faced by domestic nationals, foreign nationals and migrants in Mexico. On 22 April federal authorities and marines rescued 49 undocumented Central American migrants held captive in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. The migrants, comprised of 26 Salvadoran, 17 Guatemalan and six Honduran nationals (including three minors) were discovered 8km from the McAllenHidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge linking Mexico with the US. Tens of thousands of Central American migrants enter the country illegally each year hoping to reach the US and are often targeted in kidnappings and extortions by organised criminal gangs.
Two days prior on 20 April, authorities in the southeastern state of Chiapas continued searches for six Colombian tourists reported missing, possibly kidnapped during an outing to the Chichonal volcano. The group reportedly disappeared on 15 April.
On 09 April Mexican singer Lupillo Rivera became the latest celebrity to suffer an attempted kidnapping in Mexico. The singer was ambushed and abducted by armed men after a concert in Puebla, but was later rescued as security officials blocked the kidnappers escape route from the venue. Prior to the attack the singer had been active on social media, likely indicating his location and schedule which could have been used to target him.
On 01 April a former governor of Chocó department, Patrocinio Sanchez, was released by the National Liberation Army (ELN) in a rural area of Chocó following almost three years in captivity. Sanchez was abducted by a kidnapping gang and subsequently sold to the ELN on 25 August 2013 in the village of Samurindò. While initial reports indicated a ransom was paid for Patrocinio’s release, it was subsequently revealed the ELN traded the former governor for his older brother.
On 19 April security forces acting under the auspices of Op SWORD OF HONOUR released two young women kidnapped in the Manrique neighbourhood of Medellín. The individual responsible, Andres Felipe Valencia, was a member of the criminal gang San Pablo and demanded a ransom of USD57,000 for their release. According to an army statement, Felipe was arrested in the victim’s family home during the arranged ransom payment following collaboration with the families.
On 01 April security forces rescued 33 citizens from Pueblo Loco Caucasia municipality in Antioquia following their abduction by the self-defence group Gaitanistas of Colombia. During the operation two guerrillas were detained alongside a cache of weapons and ammunition.
On 25 April security forces arrested two men, allegedly members of the self-styled ‘Úsuga Clan’ criminal gang in La Esperanza, North of Santander department. The group is reportedly responsible for numerous kidnapping and extortion incidents in the area. According to an army statement, Op BRAYAN also recovered weapons and ammunition.
On 20 April 25-year-old attorney Melisa Trillos was abducted by unidentified gunmen from a petrol station in the city of Ocaña, North of Santander department. Following pursuit by security forces, the kidnappers’ vehicle were recovered abandoned and damaged by the roadside in a remote area. North of Santander Government Secretary Yebrail Haddad announced a reward of COP100 million (USD34,500) for information leading to the victim’s safe return.
Artists and local celebrities are increasingly targeted by kidnap gangs in Venezuela. On 13 April the musician Gustavo Molero was kidnapped when leaving his house in Maracaibo. Molero later confirmed he paid a ransom to secure his release and claimed he was severely beaten during captivity.
In a similar development, on 15 April hip-hop artist Lennin Pérez was abducted in the car park of a commercial centre in Las Mercedes, Caracas. Although investigations are still ongoing, local media reports indicate members of the Criminal Investigation Police (CIP) could be involved in the kidnapping of Pérez.
On 12 April a CIP operation resulted in the death of Juan Pablo Pacheco – the leader of a kidnapping gang known as “La Banda del Portu” – reportedly responsible for dozens of abductions and murders in Caracas. The group were responsible for the high profile kidnapping of former Mexican ambassador Carlos Pujalte in January 2012.
On 23 April Neomar Avilla, the leader of a kidnapping gang operating in the wealthiest neighbourhood of Caracas, was killed during a police operation in the east of the city.
On 28 April Katherine Jane Wilson, a 60-year-old aid worker, was kidnapped in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Wilson was working with the Afghan women’s charity Zardozi when she was abducted from the NGO’s office at gunpoint. According to Zardozi’s chairman, Wilson was abducted by up to four men at 0400 LT claiming to be from the National Directorate of Security.
On 04 April two kidnapped Bangladeshi nationals employed by the development organisation BRAC were released after 18 days in captivity. The victims were kidnapped in Kunduz city along with two Afghan nationals who were released later that day. The perpetrators were not identified and it is uncertain if a ransom was paid.
On 01 April gunmen kidnapped 15 anti-land mine workers of the HALO Trust organisation in Kohsan, Herat province. The victims were Afghan nationals and a security operation rescued the hostages a day later. No group has claimed responsibility, however the Afghan Taliban is reportedly behind the kidnapping. While Herat has been relatively peaceful, the kidnapping preceded the Taliban’s formal announcement of its spring offensive on 12 April. The anticipated upsurge in militant activity, coupled with infighting between insurgents loyal to leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and dissident leader Mullah Mohammad Rasool in Herat, suggests kidnappings are likely to increase.
Police involvement in kidnapping continues to be reported in Pakistan. In early April four police officials from Paredi, Karachi were arrested after a kidnap victim identified them as perpetrators. On 15 April the Express Tribune reported 12 officers were connected with kidnappings in 2015, with 10 officers arrested this year.
On 19 April Newsweek Pakistan reported the army had secured an area in North Waziristan where kidnap victims are commonly held. The 86-square-mile area is reportedly a stronghold for terrorist groups; the successful police operation has led some news reports to claim an end to the ‘ransom market’ in the area.
In south Punjab on 14 April, a police raid targeting criminals involved in hundreds of kidnappings for ransom, resulted in the death of six police officers. The criminals were part of Chotu Gang responsible for the kidnapping of 24 people, including police officials. The joint police and armed forces’ operation lasted over 20 days, resulting in the capture of Chotu Gang leader Ghulam Rasool.
On 04 April social media was utilised to aid the kidnap of a youth in Bihar state. Kidnappers posing as a girl on Facebook misled a young male into meeting in Begusarai district and abducted him before demanding a USD15,000 ransom from his parents. Local police began a search which prompted the perpetrators to release the victim. Authorities also noted the incident could be the first time perpetrators have made use of social media to plan kidnappings.
On 11 April the 14-year-old son of an industrialist was kidnapped in Kapurthala and a ransom of USD45,000was demanded from his parents. An employee at the metal factory owned by the victim’s father is suspected of involvement in the abduction, and police were immediately informed. On 13 April the victim was found dead despite the family’s offer to pay the ransom.
Philippines / Malaysia
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) released three new videos featuring the Samal Island hostages kidnapped on 21 September 2015. A new ransom deadline of 25 April was set after the previous deadline of 08 April passed without payment. The militants lowered the ransom demand from USD21 million per person to 6.51 million, but threatened to execute at least one of the victims on 25 April at 1500LT if the ransom was not paid.
On 25 April the severed head of 68-year-old Canadian hostage John Ridsdel was found in Patikul town. Confirming the death, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described it as ‘an act of cold-blooded murder’.
In addition to land-based and cross-border kidnappings, ASG continued to demonstrate its maritime capability by abducting four Malaysian and four Indonesian crewmembers from two tugboats on 01 April and 15 April along the maritime border between the Philippines and Malaysia. In response, Malaysia’s Chief Minister closed the eastern international boundaries to crossborder trade with the Philippines to prevent further kidnappings.
On 21 April the US State Department issued a warning urging its citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to the Sulu Archipelago and through the southern Sulu Sea.
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Featured image: Plaza Caracas by Julio César Mesa on Flickr