Specialist intelligence company, Exclusive Analysis, forecasts commercially relevant political and violent risk worldwide. The company recently launched Foresight Security Planning, a tool that enables corporate security, business intelligence and risk managers to better understand and plan for risk to their personnel and assets. For Diplomat, Exclusive Analysis has selected intelligence from the product’s Risk to Individuals layer that shows countries where there is an increasing risk of kidnap to foreigners working or travelling abroad.
Colombia: 2010 saw the first year-on-year increase in kidnapping in Colombia for a decade. According to the anti-kidnapping NGO Pais Libre, the number of kidnappings rose 32 per cent in 2010, to 282, with notable increases in the provinces of Huila, Meta, Norte de Santander and Nariño. This trend looks set to continue in 2011, given that the 177 kidnappings in the first semester of this year constitute a 35 per cent rise on the same period in 2010. Nevertheless, this is still far below the peak of almost 2,600 in 1999.
The recent increase is partly due to kidnappings by FARC and ELN guerrillas. Having reduced their reliance on kidnapping as a source of income from 2002, they are now seeking to replace income lost through the government’s counter-narcotics drive. Moreover, common criminals (responsible for 57 per cent of cases in 2010) and new generation paramilitary groups (7 per cent) have become more active in kidnapping, with common criminals occasionally selling victims onto the guerrillas.
Three of the eight departments which registered the highest level of kidnappings in 2010 – Arauca (30 cases in 2010), Nariño (11), and Norte de Santander (11) – are frontier provinces where victims can be quickly moved into neighbouring Venezuela or Ecuador. The other hotspots in 2010 were Valle del Cauca (20), Antioquia (22), Cauca (20), and Casanare (12). Bogotá is not far behind with eight reported cases in 2010. However, all these figures are likely to be an underestimation of the scale of the problem.
Top targets are those involved in agribusiness/cattle, merchants/traders and youths (taken to pressure their parents). However, 2011 has seen a marked increase in abductions of oil workers. In March, 23 employees of South American Energy (a subcontractor of Canada’s Talisman Energy) were taken in Vichada; a seismologist was kept for four months but the others escaped or were released within days. Three Chinese employees of the UK’s Emerald Energy were kidnapped in Caquetá in June; we understand a $3 million ransom is being demanded. Furthermore, five contractors for US firm Occidental Petroleum were taken in Arauca in July. They were released several days later, apparently as a warning over the refusal to pay extortion money. Most recently, in August, three contractors of Petrosísmica, a subcontractor of Ecopetrol, were kidnapped in Santander.
Mexico: Between December 2006 and the end of 2010, there were 2,455 reported cases, compared with 2,593 in the whole six-year term of the Vicente Fox administration (2000-06). Official sources say reported kidnappings rose by 28 per cent in 2009, to 1,521. However, some NGOs have estimated this to be in excess of 13,000. The drug cartels’ need to finance their turf wars, together with police collusion in many kidnappings, means the figures are unlikely to fall significantly in the next year.
None of these figures include so-called ‘express’ kidnappings (people held briefly to empty their daily withdrawal allowance from cash machines), or ‘virtual’ kidnappings in which targeted victims are misled into believing that someone close has been abducted. Also excluded are the abductions of illegal migrants en route from Central America to the US (either for ransom or as forced labour for criminal gangs), which has been estimated at 20,000 in 2010.
Most of the known kidnappings of US nationals occur close to the Mexico-US border; there were just under 60 known cases of kidnappings of US nationals (who account for more than 80 per cent of all foreign visitors to Mexico) from 2006 to 2008. Most are of dual citizenship, with families in northern Mexico. Furthermore, three US citizens were reportedly among dozens abducted from buses on the Reynosa-San Fernando and San Fernando-Matamoros highways in March/April 2011. Many of the victims of such kidnappings are assumed to have been killed and interred in mass graves located in the area.
Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger: Factions of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), active in Algeria’s southern border area with Mali, Niger and Mauritania, pose the greatest kidnap risks to foreigners. An Italian tourist was kidnapped in the desert south of Djanet in Illizi province on 2 February 2011, while there were unverified reports of two Moroccans kidnapped in Tamanghasset province on 27 January 2011. These were the first kidnappings of foreigners in Algeria since 2003, indicating the growing capability in Algeria’s southern border area, which also includes Adrar province.
Difficulties faced by government forces in securing the local terrain and enforcing border control makes concealment and movement of hostages far easier than in Algeria’s northeastern Kabylie region, where AQIM’s northern factions are active. This allows AQIM to engage in lengthy ransom negotiations that can take months. Two Canadian diplomats and two western tourists seized in Niger and Mali in December 2008 and January 2009 respectively, were only released in April 2009, reportedly for a ransom of around €5 million. It is estimated that more than 90 per cent of AQIM’s funding comes from kidnapping, with the average ransom for a western hostage standing at $6.5 million. Its employment of the practice rose 150 per cent between 2008 and 2009.
While hostages are usually released if ransoms are paid, there is a stronger risk of ideologically motivated executions for hostages of British, American and particularly French nationalities. A failed Franco-Mauritanian raid to rescue hostage Michel Germaneau from an AQIM camp in Mali on 22 July 2010 resulted in specific threats against French nationals and an AQIM claim to have killed Germaneau. Earlier, in May 2009, the killing of British hostage Edwin Dyer indicated that AQIM in the south wished both to be taken seriously as a jihadist group and to ensure the prompt payment of ransoms in the future.
While AQIM kidnap risks are greatest across the border in Mali, Mauritania and Niger, employees and construction workers working on the southern Algerian section of the Trans-Saharan pipeline project are likely to be a particularly attractive target once construction begins. There is also likely to be some intent to kidnap foreigners among AQIM factions operating in the north, although capture and sustained concealment of hostages is likely to be far more difficult there. In June 2009, Algerian press reported the arrest of four people plotting to abduct foreigners at tourist sites in Algiers.
Kidnap risks in Niger are severe in the northern desert areas bordering Mali and Algeria, and in the uranium-rich Agadez region. AQIM is active in these areas, and the multi-million pound ransoms now being paid for AQIM hostages mean there is also incentive for local Tuareg and other Nigeriens to kidnap western nationals and sell them on to AQIM. As a result, AQIM’s geographical reach is growing.
The first ever AQIM kidnap in the capital, Niamey, occurred on 8 January 2011 when two French nationals were abducted by gunmen out of a restaurant in the Plateau area of the capital, popular with foreigners. They were later killed after Nigerien troops pursued the kidnappers. Furthermore, on 16 September 2010, AQIM kidnapped seven hostages from the Areva and Satom mining companies in Arlit, having previously kidnapped two Canadian diplomats en route to visit the Canadian-owned Samira Hill gold mine on 15 December 2008. Kidnap risks will further rise following the announcement that Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania plan to establish a joint anti-AQIM military base in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria, by the end of 2012.
Meanwhile, Tuareg rebel group, Movement for Justice in Niger (MNJ) and its splinter factions are increasingly likely to renew kidnapping of mining personnel in 2011 due to the government’s failure to reinvest mining profits in the Agadez region. A Chinese executive at uranium-prospecting company China Nuclear International Uranium Corporation (Sino-U), near Ingall in the north of the country, was kidnapped in June 2007. While the MNJ made no request for a ransom and the hostage was released by the end of the month, the act served as a warning to foreign, particularly Chinese companies, to refrain from supporting the Army in its offensives against Tuareg groups. MNJ also kidnapped four employees of French company Areva in the Agadez region in 2008, though it later released them unharmed. Kidnap by Tuareg rebel groups has been less of a risk since a ceasefire was declared in April 2009, but it is likely that local groups retain this capability and would resort to kidnap in the event of a resumption of Tuareg conflict with the government.
Risks of opportunistic kidnap are also heightened by the prevalence of armed-vehicle theft in the region, putting passengers at risk of abduction. On 28 December 2009, four Saudi nationals were shot dead as they stopped by the side of the road to pray while on a hunting trip travelling towards the Malian border. One survivor stated that Tuareg gunmen had attacked them in order to steal their vehicle.
These figures [don’t] include so-called ‘express’ kidnappings (people held briefly to empty their daily withdrawal allowance from cash machines), or ‘virtual’ kidnappings in which targeted victims are misled into believing that someone close has been abducted.