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Responses to ransom

A new approach is needed if terrorist groups are not to continue to benefit from multi-million-dollar cash injections. That’s according to a report, Closing the Gap: Assessing Responses to Terrorist-Related Kidnap-for-Ransom, by the UK think-tank on defence and security, RUSI (Royal United Services Institute).

Governments continue to be concerned about kidnapping as a source of terrorist finance. A host of international commitments, underpinned by UN Security Council Resolutions and domestic laws, forbids the commercial resolution of terrorist-related kidnappings and prevents governments from making concessions to terrorists. Yet, it is also common knowledge that, in practice, the UN ban lacks the support of key signatories, who prioritise the immediate preservation of life over their counter-terrorism, suggest the authors, Anja Shortland, a Reader in Political Economy at King’s College London (KCL); and Tom Keatinge, Director, Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at RUSI.

Their paper outlines three options which would help to ‘close the gap’ between commitments of some governments and their actions in response to the kidnapping of their citizens by terrorists.

– The first option requires a global, rigorously applied and scrupulously monitored commitment to prevent any concessions to terrorist organisations. This would eliminate hostage-taking as a source of terrorist finance, although terrorists might still kidnap for propaganda purposes. However, the paper shows that the international community remains polarised and is not ready to commit to enforcing such a ban.
– A second option is that governments exit from the market for hostage negotiations and decriminalise private resolutions of terrorist hostage incidents. The insurance sector already offers effective solutions for the prevention and resolution of criminal kidnappings. These solutions would become available for those exposed to the risk of terrorist kidnap.
– A third option would be a new policy framework modelled on existing private sector solutions. Private entities would be allowed to make financial concessions, but governments would create effective (multilateral) institutions to monitor and minimise such payments.

The authors call for a policy debate on this intractable problem. In the long run, terrorist financing through kidnapping should be eliminated by adopting the first option. However, the authors argue that the unsatisfactory status quo can be immediately improved by shifting responsibility for ransoming from governments to the private sector.

For the paper, download at


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