Over the years there have been many articles in Circuit Magazine about the kidnapping threat, and rightly so.
As we know, the danger of kidnapping is always a concern amongst high-level executives, especially when operating and traveling to some regions where kidnapping occurrences are more common. In this article, however, the topic is focused on one particular method of kidnapping, and that is what’s known as tiger kidnapping.
Tiger kidnapping is always conducted by serious organized crime groups. Although the kidnapping phase itself is fast, traumatic, and often violent, to be able to go through the many stages of the process, it requires intelligence, insider knowledge, surveillance and resources from a hostile group – these types of incidents are not carried out by low-level opportunist criminals. The phenomenon started back in the seventies with tactics used by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA kidnapped people in order to get them to place car bombs against British political and military targets. The phenomena, which started as a terrorist tactic, soon developed into what has become known as tiger kidnappings, with the aim of obtaining large amounts of cash. After proving to be a successful tactic, the trend quickly spread and soon grew into a global phenomenon.
During the 1980s, incidents were isolated, mostly targeting cash-in-transit vehicles. Then in the 1990s, we witnessed the evolution of tiger kidnappings, which saw criminals starting to focus on larger scale businesses, mainly cash handling premises and retail banks. At the turn of the century, the threat evolved further with more cases reported, more substantial amounts of money taken, and the geographical locations varied. It is thought that the name, tiger kidnap, originates from the way tigers hunt their prey, where they move slowly and stealthy taking their time to carefully close in on their prey before suddenly attacking with violence and ferocity.
As the initially targeted sectors, such as banks, post offices, and cash-in-transit companies, began to implement security countermeasures to tackle the threat, criminals responded by adapting their modus operandi. Criminal groups now turned their attention to different institutions that were considered to be high value/low-risk targets, such as retail jewellery stores and the diamond trade. The phenomena spread to Belgium, one of the largest diamond trade centers in the world and had a devasting impact on its business.
The Kidnap Cycle
Tiger kidnapping is a complex crime. In fact, it involves two separate crimes. First, the targeted person, their family members, or associates are abducted. The second crime is extortion, whereby the criminals will attempt to gain, under duress, something of value that the target either owns or has the power to deliver. Usually, the objective is to steal money or other valuables but could include anything from robbery to murder, or coercing the victim into carrying out an act of terrorism, like placing a bomb.
The Take Over
Kidnappers survey their target for an extended period before they pounce. Next, they will look to take over the targets house and its occupants. Statistically, this will most likely be executed in the hours between 1800 to 0400. At some point, the family is taken hostages and are separated from the targeted person.
Crime by Proxy
Next, the criminals will inform the victim of what they want them to do and threaten harm to their family if they don’t act accordingly. Once the victim has been instructed on the plan the criminals will dispatch them to the designated location, often their place of work, to steal the assets they want possession of, and then arrange the drop-off.
Finally, in order for the victim to secure the safe release of their loved ones the ransom needs to be dropped off/exchanged at a defined location. More often than not, if the plan is executed accordingly, the hostages will be released.
The premise is that the targeted person has access rights to money vaults, diamonds or other valuable assets, and so they don’t attract attention when carrying out the crime on behalf of the criminals. The victim is scared of criminals harming the family so usually the police are only alerted after the crime has been committed and so the criminals have time to vanish.
Tiger kidnappings are well planned and prepared. Criminals target the victims’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Where workplace might be well protected against traditional crime, many of the victims don’t have protection or significant security measures at home, and so the criminals capitalize on that weakness.
Let’s look at the usual modus operandi of the criminals. First, as in any serious crime, the criminals will assess their options and identify the target based on individual risk factors. The initial intelligence gathering is first done by open-source analysis, then, when the potential targets are narrowed down the final target selection is conducted. Following the decision to attack a chosen target, the criminals then commence surveillance on the target followed by operational planning; insider knowledge is often utilized during this phase. The purpose of surveillance is to gather information about routines, timings, routes, and vulnerabilities in order to come up with an efficient plan.
Statistically, most tiger kidnappings are executed by:
- Organized crime groups with a minimum of 2-4 persons included in the operational phase.
- Lower Level criminals may be used in the initial stages.
- Criminals who are trained in weapons handling and could also be ex-military.
- Criminals with experience in committing violence and threatening people.
- Criminals are usually experienced in other crimes like robberies, drugs, burglaries, but there are trained and practiced groups dedicated to kidnappings only.
Who is at Risk?
Tiger kidnapping is a viable threat to anyone that has regular and authorized access to vaults, safes or places where cash and other valuables are stored. Also, at risk are those with access to digital money, like authorization to transfer money, and there have even been cases of holders of cryptocurrencies being targeted for kidnapping. Persons at risk could be anybody from a cash handling manager, cash-in-transit guards, jeweller shop owners, or the family members and co-workers also.
I have found in training sessions that it is common to think that only company CEO’s, or bank managers are at high risk to tiger kidnapping, but the reality is that everybody who has access to valuables is a target. It could be the night shift guard working in a cash handling center or a shift manager in a jewelry store. In their target selection phase, the criminals are considering your security awareness. When considering where and who to attack they are looking for soft targets. A soft target is someone who has little, or no personal security measures in place and is not aware of the threat.
The Tiger Kidnapping Case of Colin Dixon
One of the most publicly known examples of tiger kidnapping is the Colin Dixon case. Dixon, the manager of the Securitas depot in Tunbridge, Kent, UK, was driving home In February 2006, when he was stopped by what he thought was a police patrol car. Two men, dressed in police uniforms, told Dixon he was being arrested for speeding, they handcuffed him and placed him in the backseat of the assumed police car. It quickly became evident to Dixon that these men were not real police officers and they told him to remain calm and obey any orders. To enhance the message the criminals held him at gunpoint, then, after some time, he was moved to a van and bound.
At the same time as Dixon was being kidnapped, his wife, Lynn, was visited by two men in police uniforms at their home. One of the would-be officers informed her that her husband had been in an accident and that she should accompany them to the hospital. They suggested that she should bring their small child with them. Once under their control the bogus policemen revealed their true identity and threatened Mrs. Dixon, at gunpoint, to comply.
The family was taken to a farm, and Mr. Dixon was informed that they had kidnapped his family also. Now, realizing the full extent of the situation, Dixon was made to give information about the Securitas depot. Armed with this insider information the criminals finalized their plans and launched into the next phase of the operation.
They deployed a convoy to the depot and gained entry with Dixon’s access rights. The security guard on duty opened the door to his boss who was accompanied by one of the criminals still dressed as a police officer. The guard was restrained, and Dixon led the rest of the convoy into the depot. All 14 Securitas employees were tied up, and within 75 minutes, the group loaded £53m in bank notes in their truck and made their escape.
The Dixon case illustrates the earlier stated point that Tiger Kidnapping is not the undertaking of amateurs. Later, when the case went to court, eight people were accused of having been involved, and it was shown that the insider knowledge they’d acquired had provided the group with the vital details of the depot layout and security systems. It was also revealed, during the court case, the extent the group went to and the emphasis they placed on conducting surveillance on the Dixon family.
Mitigating the Risk
There are many things which can be done to reduce the threat of tiger kidnapping. One of the first things to consider is the online presence of your company/entity. One of the easiest and fastest ways for criminals to gather intelligence on you is from readily available open source information. Knowledge can be collected from official web pages, company info web resources, google earth and other maps, the list is extensive. For gathering personal information, about a potential target, social media is a one-stop-shop for everything you need. You should routinely conduct reviews of your online profiles, giving consideration to what you put out there, such as photos, locations, and routines.
To perform simple countermeasures to physical surveillance, the persons at risk have to use varied routes and timings for their travel to and from work and other regularly frequented places. Surveillance can be conducted by cameras located in strategic areas and used remotely to secure the premises. You should also consider your verification process when strangers knock at your door. As we learned from the Dixon case, it is not uncommon for criminals to disguise themselves as officials such as police or package delivery.
The threat of insider knowledge being utilized by the criminal organization can be reduced when the workplace implements policies such as background checks. Organizational measures to mitigate these risks could include guidance on how to maintain a low profile and awareness of what information is posted online – ongoing training of staff is vital to reduce the overall threat. Improving the security of valuable assets can be achieved by limiting and controlling the volume of access to safes and vaults. The single most important thing is to implement protocols that prevent any individual employee, no matter their position from being able to access safe’s or vaults on their own. It is the responsibility of all at-risk organizations to put together anti-tiger kidnapping protocols and train the workforce in them. Companies need a stealth way to alarm police and co-workers of a situation when it occurs, and they must identify the key personalities at risk.
Tiger kidnapping is a real threat and has to be taken seriously. If you or the principal you’re tasked to protect, work in an environment that deals with physical money or has access to valuables, take the time to train yourself on the threat. Do thorough risk assessments of your workplace and assess physical security systems and countermeasures and don’t forget to do the same to your private residence and lifestyle.
By: Wille Heino
Wille Heino has over 20 years of security experience from private and government sectors. In addition to working in disclosed government organization, mr.Heino runs a security consulting & training company gambeson in Finland.