When most people think about kidnapping they think of high-profile events such as the Lindbergh baby or Patty Hearst kidnapping. In general, people seem to believe that kidnapping is something that only happens in the movies or to the incredibly wealthy. To be sure, kidnapping is not a common crime. However, it is more widespread than many suspect. In fact, there are 20,000 to 30,000 reported kidnappings-for-ransom in the world each year. However, the actual number of cases is probably much larger, as the crime goes unreported about 80% of the time.
It is important to remember that there are several different types of kidnapping. In many cases, there is no ransom or monetary motivation whatsoever. For example, almost 70% of the kidnappings in the United States are by family members or acquaintances of the victim. In most cases, these kidnappings are driven by a custody dispute or feeling that the child is better off in the hands of the kidnapper. There are also cases where a predator or other unstable person abducts a victim. While kidnapping by acquaintance and kidnapping by predator are important topics, they lie outside the scope of this blog. Instead, this article will concentrate on instances of abduction conducted in order to secure some type of political or monetary gain.
The first type of kidnapping in this class is known as an express kidnapping. In this variation of the crime, a victim is seized for a short period of time, often for just several hours. The modus operandi in an express kidnapping is for criminals to abduct an individual and escort him to ATM after ATM, withdrawing money until his limit is reached or his account is exhausted. This type of crime tends to be lower risk for the perpetrators and generally involves less planning and preparation than abductions lasting for longer periods.
The second type of kidnapping is called a tiger kidnapping, a tactic popularized by the IRA. In a tiger kidnapping, a close relation of a targeted individual is abducted. The targeted individual is then asked to carry out some action in order to secure the release of his loved-one. Normally, this means committing a robbery, undermining security barriers, or conducting some other type of illegal act. Tiger kidnappings are rare and tend to be carried out by trained personnel operating at the behest of a larger criminal or terrorist organization.
The third type of kidnapping is called a political kidnapping. In this version, a demand for money is sometimes made. However, it is more common to demand a particular action by a specific government, such as the withdrawal of troops. In most cases, the captors make their demands with little expectation that their terms will be met. Instead, the true motivation for the crime is to gain publicity for the organization and/or make a political statement of some kind. This type of kidnapping has been widely practiced by the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and affiliated groups. In some unfortunate cases, the victims of political kidnapping are executed on video in an effort to gain even greater notoriety.
The final, and perhaps most well known, variant of kidnapping is called kidnapping-for-ransom. In this variant, criminals kidnap a victim in order secure some type of ransom or other economic reward. Kidnapping-for-ransom is not common, but they present a real threat in many parts of the world. This type of crime often takes more preparation and planning than express kidnappings. It is also considerably more risky for both the perpetrators and the victims as there is plenty that can go wrong from the point of abduction to the final exchange.
While the above present clear-cut examples of each type of kidnapping, there are kidnappings that blur the lines between types. For example, terrorist and insurgent groups often conduct kidnappings-for-ransom under the aegis of a broader political struggle. Sometimes these groups use revenues from kidnapping to fund their organization’s operations. For example, the Taliban is known to have raised a large amount of money by ransoming victims. However, there are other instances where the sole motivation for the crime is greed. In these cases, criminal groups prey on victims for solely selfish reasons, yet claim that their actions are legitimate and part of a broader political struggle.
To be sure, criminal and terrorist organizations can generate a lot of revenue from kidnapping. In the year 2000 alone, the Filipino terrorist group Abu Sayyaf was able to rake in $20 million through its kidnapping operations. It is estimated that the kidnapping operations generate $500 million in revenue for criminal groups each year. However, this number may be even larger as Pirates off the coast of Somalia have, on average, netted $5.4 million dollars for every ship and crew they have taken captive.
While kidnapping occurs in all nations, its prevalence and type vary country to country. Kidnapping is particularly prevalent in Afghanistan, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq, Chechnya, Sudan and Pakistan, as well as other countries. Indeed, kidnapping is a problem is places many would least expect, including the United States, China, and India. In our next article — Kidnapping Part II: The Geography of the Crime — we will be looking at the places where kidnapping occurs the most.