31 Oct 2014

Hostages for fortunes: why governments still pay terror ransoms

A very senior civil servant recently put up his hands in despair. “We’ve tried our best,” he told me. “Other European countries and companies sign up to the premise and then behind the scenes ignore it. What else can we do?”

It was almost an admission of defeat. He was talking about the ongoing attempts to persuade the rest of the world not to give in to ransom demands for hostages.

This week’s UN report on al-Qaeda makes frightening reading as to the scale of the multi-million pound extortion machine.

The average value of a foreign hostage is now put at £1.7m.

Kidnapping, the report notes, is a growing terrorist tactic. In the last four years al-Qaeda in north Africa has received around £47m.


The UN puts the amount earned by Isis alone at between £21m and £28m in the past year.

It goes on to note that there remains a steady stream of allegations, which have been denied, that governments continue to pay ransoms to terrorists groups, and acknowledges this is an extremely challenging issue – an admission that not every nation is following the rules. And yet none have been hit by sanctions.

It’s difficult not to share the exasperation of the British civil servant.

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