Hostage taking awareness info for the Security Professional travelling abroad (pre and post capture)
I must state from the outset that the likelihood of being kidnapped or taken hostage is very slim. However, if it does happen, your chances of survival are deemed as very high. Hostage taking or kidnapping is a terrifying experience to go through in anyone’s life, but you probably already possess more personal skills than you ever thought you had, with the training you have endured already within the security world to date.
It has to be said that with individuals now reaching out to the far flung areas of the world for security work where the pay is the incentive, especially maritime duties, the risks of being taken as a hostage have increased enormously. Hopefully this article will guide you through what you should remember, and this will assist you greatly in your thought process in pre operational deployment, and prepare you in some small way for what may lie ahead.
IF YOU ARE TAKEN HOSTAGE A FEW POINTS TO REMEMBER
As you are being transported in whatever form, stay focused and try and recall your journey, as these details will become highly important later. The length of time you have been travelling, and turns that are made, and of course the distance, will all be relevant at a later stage to identify the holding area where you were kept.
You will more than likely be moved several times from one building or holding area to another so be prepared for this eventuality. This will only occur as they fear discovery by those trying to find you and for no other reason.
Once you are placed into a secure area try to remain calm and recount smells and sounds, and use all the senses given to you to be able to recall the area in which you are being kept for later at a debrief.
The most essential person to identify is the leader of the hostage takers, there is ALWAYS a leader!! Get to know him, as he is the person who drives the situation and identify his weaknesses or vulnerabilities.
THINGS TO ASSIST YOU
If you find you are being held in an unlit area either due to being blindfolded or in a secure area where there is no natural light, remember the time of day you were taken, and listen for street noises such as car horns or loud street talk, common in most third world countries. This will help in providing you with a reliable mental time clock. The religious callings and bird and animal noises also assist in placing time accurately during the day.
You must always assume your stay will be a lengthy one, in so doing your mental agility will assist your situation. Always try to stay fit and healthy by exercising on a daily basis, and set yourself physical targets, beat your last press-up record and keep your muscles toned with isometric and flexing exercises, all will assist in relaxation and the relief of stress, that will inevitably develop as time goes on.
If you have been taken hostage with others, normally they will be housed together with you, but clearly each country’s hostage takers and objectives and the geographical area could provide them with more accommodation allowing each hostage to be kept separately.
If this is the case, and you are separated whilst you are being held, try and contact them by various means, coughing loudly or tapping on adjoining walls or pipe- work to draw attention to your location.
If you are co- located with others you know or those who were there before you arrived, watch for signs of “Stockholm Syndrome”.
STOCKHOLM SYNDROME is:
“The behaviour of hostage or kidnap victims who, over time, become sympathetic to their captors.” The title comes from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of the six days of captivity in a bank, several kidnap victims actually resisted rescue attempts, and afterwards refused to give evidence against their captors, as they had befriended them all whilst in custody.
The causes of Stockholm Syndrome?
Captives begin to identify with their captors initially as a defensive mechanism, out of fear of violence towards them. Small acts of kindness by the hostage takers are magnified in the mental state and all perspective in the situation is by definition irrational. Rescue attempts are also seen as a threat to health, as it is likely the captive would be injured during such attempts.
Establish a friendly rapport with your captors, but maintain your personal dignity and do not compromise your integrity as I stated earlier.
If you are forced to present the hostage takers demands to any authorities, either in writing or on video tape, state clearly that the demands are from your captors and not from you. Avoid making a plea on your own behalf.
Whilst in custody, be patient, as negotiations by trained Government or Police negotiators are often difficult and time consuming, but be assured they will be proceeding on your behalf.
Remember, your chances of survival increase with time and your ability to remain confident and mentally strong will see you through the ordeal.
If you are able to escape if the situation presents itself, go first to an Embassy or Consulate to seek their personal protection.
If you cannot reach either, go to the host government or friendly government office, but be surrounded by a lot of people, which would make it more difficult to be recaptured.
If an attempt is made to rescue you, keep a very low profile and always follow instructions clearly given by the rescuers or Rapid Intervention Team leader. There will inevitably be a lot of noise at the initial stages, from distraction devices and the like, but seek out that lone voice of command and do as you are told quickly with open hands!!
Rescue from your Government’s Forces or other agencies will generally be attempted only after negotiations have failed and for them to continue would be futile, and your life is in danger.
That means that lives of hostages, hostage takers, and those rescue forces are all at risk during these next vital few minutes.
You don’t want to be shot or injured in the confusion while the rescue team identifies the hostage takers, who may try to disguise themselves as hostages amongst you to evade detection at the crucial time of the strike if there are a number of you in one location.
If your rescuer mishandles you in the early stages of entry into the stronghold do not be alarmed, this will be happening to everybody as the team identify the hostage takers and eliminate the perceived threat.
You will inevitably be cable tied or handcuffed until identification is completed and the area secured internally and externally where a perimeter will have been secured as well. Time will elapse once the hostage takers are identified and dealt with and a resemblance of normality will take over, where upon you will be released into the hands of authority.
YOUR BODY LANGUAGE & TATTOO’S
The way in which you conduct yourself is essential. Do not be unnecessarily obstructive, and do not appear arrogant towards the hostage takers reasons for holding you. The body language you give off says a lot about you as a person. Someone with a well developed body can appear arrogant by their very stance and nature, and it is that air you give off that will antagonise many less mortal men!!.
If you have any identifiable tattoo’s such as your Military Regiment on your arms, ensure you have the answers to what will be certain questioning about them. Family names are also commonplace, just be prepared with a response and have a pre determined answer!!!!
The region or country that you have been taken in as a hostage will dictate the cultural differences you will experience. Be totally aware of those cultural attitudes by being sympathetic to their beliefs in religion and politics, but take no deliberate line or side. Hopefully before deployment you will have absorbed yourself in the knowledge of the cultural area anyway that you would be operating in, and become fully conversant in the sensitivities and those to avoid antagonising any likely hostage taker.
Corruption abounds and exists within many second and third world countries and one must realise that many of the official organisations in these countries, such as the Police and Customs agencies, are institutionally corrupt and allies of the kidnappers.
Avoid the Police in many countries where money speaks louder than any help they will or could provide you.
To show aggressive tendencies or the appearance of superiority causes more trouble than it is worth. Resistance in many kidnap cases is absolutely futile. Be a passive prisoner, and only resist the most aggressive physical abuse by protesting clearly and loudly to your abuser.
ESCAPE AND EVASION
The basic requirements you MUST consider if you do escape your captors, is the ability to survive, through assessing your location, availability of water, food, warmth and clothing.
Remember, if you do escape from your captor’s location, it will normally be in either a remote location, or one where the inhabitants around you approve what is happening to you, and know of your presence there.
So treat everybody in the immediate area as hostile, and evade them until you are well clear of the area, and only if you find yourself in a built up area, try and stay amongst large numbers of differing groups, such as on buses, or trains where the likelihood of recapture would be difficult to achieve by your captors.
If you are in a remote location and you have identified it as such by the simple mental tracking tips, and try to remember the way you were brought into the location as described earlier, and retread your steps keeping off roads and paths by remaining parallel to them, as these are the very same paths that will be watched by your captors allies.
Whilst making your escape, take no risks and avoid injury at all costs at this vital time, as this will inevitably slow you down, resulting in your recapture.
Be aware of plants that can sustain your condition in providing water and food. Learn this simple art of survival techniques before leaving the UK, as many plants contain water and are found in the most desolate of areas such as the Cacti plant for example, and will keep you alive.
Try to avoid moving during daylight especially in those countries that have extreme temperatures, always try and cover your head, as sunstroke is to be avoided at all costs.
MEDICAL & HEALTH ISSUES
I have covered enough about medical issues surrounding your fitness but the concerns I raise now, have to be ones that only you can address. If you are a lazy individual in the ways of administering medicine normally, you will suffer in whatever country you find yourself in the long term.
You may feel low, depressed and despondent as a result of your situation, but take heart from the fact that people will be looking for you on the ground, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our specially trained Police Negotiators in the UK will be dispatched to your area to expedite the search. These units operate in many western countries in addition to ours. Many are trained in the UK where we train the methodology and skills needed to remain compatible across the world.
It is important that you keep your physical and mental fitness by exercising regularly. Simple exercises can keep your mind active as I described earlier. Have a target of sit-ups or press-ups and focus on those achievements each day for example. Increase them as your fitness grows, as it is this fitness that will see you through, when the reverse is experienced. You must always defeat idleness and complacency by keeping fit regardless.
Try to ensure that you keep your hands relatively clean at all times, especially when eating food in dirty rooms or cells where rat infestation is prevalent. Try to avoid eating with your hands in these conditions and ask for a spoon.
Leptospirosis or its common name “Weils Disease” is common in second and third world countries more so than in the UK, and is more prevalent where rats urinate in water sources and ingested by touching or drinking that water.
Always try to capture rain water and collect it in the open, ALWAYS contain it in leaves or vegetation that are off the ground, and drink it sparingly. A full bladder, means at some stage you will have to relieve yourself. It is this relief and emptying of the bladder that will drop your core body temperature by at least 25% or more. Leave urination to the very last minute to retain this body heat in cold climates.
Try to keep warm at all times, by using inner walls to sleep against rather than outer walls, which will be much colder and damp, and they too will affect your core body temperature and lower it quicker than you realise whilst you rest.
Try to insulate the floor from your body with straw or clothing or other insulative material like cardboard or newspapers.
Mosquito infestation in some areas is of great concern and medical advice on Larium or other drugs to defeat Malaria must be sought before leaving the UK, again I reiterate, try and cover open skin at night particularly against this type of parasitic attack.
Many illnesses contracted by hostages, particularly in third world countries can be avoided if they had taken medical advice before leaving the UK. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provide all the information you need, for the area you will be operating in, and the preventative medicine needed before you leave, so use it. Their website is comprehensive and can be found at:
KNOWN MEDICAL HISTORY & FACTS OF NATURE
If you have a medical problem, make your hostage takers aware of them, as it is in their interests to keep you medically fit and strong. If the food and water is of poor quality, tell them that it is insufficient to sustain your health.
In the interests of hygiene for our female operators in the security field, menstruation must be dealt with effectively, especially in hot climates, and again do not hesitate to ask for assistance, it is in their interests again to keep you well!!
If you notice any symptoms of deterioration in yourself or others that demands fast treatment, assist them with initial first aid and comfort them, and then let the hostage takers know that you need their help.
Don’t forget the overriding message in all first aid where shock may set in if assistance is not given at the early stages is the pneumonic:
W.R.A.F – Warmth, Rest, Assurances and Fluids if necessary.
Treat all cuts and abrasions immediately, by washing them and covering them in clean dry dressings.
Do not let them get infected; keep insects and flies off the wounds by covering them as soon as they are dressed.
EVERYONE LOOKING FOR YOU HAS YOUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART, AND THEIR AIM IS TO REUNITE YOU WITH YOUR LOVED ONES.
If only some of what I have written is physically retained by anyone unfortunate enough to be held as a hostage, it has been worth sharing with you, every hostage or kidnapping is different, however, the basics will NEVER change.
Stay Safe, and remain alert in ALL surroundings, never be complacent anywhere in the world even the UK!!
Gil Boyd B.E.M formed the Home Office Hostage Seige Technical Requirements Group whilst serving in a UK Police Force where he designed many specialist items still used to counter Hostage/Seige and aircraft hijacking.
He is now the Technical Director of the British Security Association www.britishsecurityassociation.com and advises corporate businesses, blue chip companies and Royal Palaces on specialist personal and physical security measures.