Laura's Writings

Terrorism and Hostage-Taking

Part 2 of 4

Evans, however differs from Miller and Poland on hostage-taker goals. Although he probably would not rule out their explanations, he cites four different goals of terrorists in hostage-taking: attain publicity, harass authority, polarize society, and aggravate state-to-state relations. Attaining publicity is the most notable of these strategies. It is usually reasoned as a means to prove that a group is powerful enough to accomplish a hostage situation, thus paralyzing the government’s ability to act. It is also referred to as “armed propaganda” (Evans 1977: 108). For example, members of Islamic Jihad are notorious for committing kidnappings so they could release them later for propaganda value or they could execute them when an enemy took actions against the Islamic Jihad or its supporters (White 1991: 203).

Harassment is a second goal offered by Evans that is simply meant to demoralize the political elite and its military and police establishment. A number of Tupamaro manifestos and underground interviews reveal that very often their abductions of prominent figures were meant to harass and demoralize the Uruguayan political elite (Evans 1977: 108). Polarization of society is the third goal, of which the victorious result would be the increased repression by authorities within a country thereby polarizing society. Polarization is more prevalent among hostage-takers that are not religiously motivated. Finally, aggravation of state-to-state relations is simply the desired result of a hostage situation designed to strain or break relations between states (109). The goals and motives of hostage-takers may vary in specificity but there is one commonality binding these goals together. All of them are perpetrated as acts of “manipulative terror,” aimed at forcing the state into some form of surrender, thus manipulating it into the hands of the terrorists (White 1991: 12).

Having examined the possible motives and goals of a hostage-taker, it is important to identify their likely target, or “hostage.” Understanding who terrorists target is important because it creates a clearer picture of the hostage-taker’s profile, and in turn, their desires. In other words, just as the motive of a terrorist organization may give clues about who they may target; likewise, hostage identity can be a clue to the motive and goals of the hostage-taker. The seizing of U.S. hostages makes a particularly good example of how inferences can be made about the hostage-taker.

Americans have always been a favored target for hostage-taking abroad. Since 1968, the U.S. has annually headed the list of countries whose nationals are most frequently attacked by terrorists (Hoffman 1992: 17; Roukis 1983: 109). Overall, Americans account for 37 percent of all kidnappings and 22 percent of all hostage/barricade situations. Also, American’s are found to be most vulnerable in the Middle East (Antokol 1990: 87). The reason for these statistics is that numbers of U.S. citizens abroad are plentiful, the U.S. is a symbol of imperialism and American hostages represent enough money to hold out the promise of highly lucrative ransom payments (86). Indeed, the geographical scope and diversity of America’s overseas commercial interests, the large number of military bases abroad, and its stature as a superpower and leader of the free world put its citizens at a comparably greater risk for attack (Hoffman 1992: 17).

Through this information a few conclusions can be drawn concerning the profile of a hostage-taker that would target U.S. citizens. Firstly, he/she is likely to be a person who may resent the perceived “imperial” nature of the U.S. Goals of the terrorist may involve persuading the U.S. to reduce its presence militarily or economically. We also know that a hostage-taker seeking an American hostage is more likely to come from the Middle East and be polarized by the cultural, political and religious atmosphere of the region. This inference along with other information could make it possible to suggest that terrorist groups such as Abu Nidal, Hizbollah or the Islamic Jihad may be likely suspects for a hostage situation involving an American in the Middle East. This is just one example of how those targeted as hostages may be an indicator of their captor’s identity.

Moving from the basic profile of a hostage-taker, the second area of analysis of hostage situations involves the hostage/captor relationship. This, of course, begins to develop once the hostage situation is initiated and depends a great deal on the reactions of the hostage. Initially, once the siege occurs, a hostage will be scared, psychologically disoriented and probably in shock. All of these are effects are exacerbated by the presence of violence (Aston 1980: 74). Time distortions often occur along with sensations of numbness when victims realize they are no longer in control of their lives. The term “idiocide” describes the feeling of the “death of the self” that frequently occurs for hostages (Morris 1988: 47). According to Crelinsten, after this occurs, there are three major options for hostage reaction. How the relationship between the captor and the hostage develops, either positively or negatively, depends on which reaction the hostage chooses to his/her situation.

The first reaction involves fight or flight or convincing the captor to release him/her or to surrender. This tactic is very dangerous and is discouraged by experts. The second tactic involves a “medical response” and can bring about the need for immediate medical attention for something such as a heart attack and would introduce a new dimension into the negotiation process. The third response is that of identification with the captor, or the Stockholm syndrome (Crelinsten 1979: 7).

Since the “Stockholm Syndrome,” or identification with the captor, is the most common of these three, it and its antithesis, the “London Syndrome” will be discussed here. Simply put the Stockholm Syndrome is a bond that develops due the dependence of the hostage on his/her hostage-taker for safety. The result is that the hostage begins to feel as though he/she identifies with the captors (Thompson 2001: 36). This explanation for how this occurs is equally as bizarre as the suggestion that it does occur. As time passes, a period of calm begins. Both hostages and hostage-takers realize their dependence on each other for survival. The positive bond that develops between these two key players serves to unite them against the outside influence of the police and negotiator. It is often suggested that this is a manifestation of a natural defense mechanism to ensure one’s own survival (Poland 1999: 24).

The Stockholm Syndrome takes its name from a bank robbery and hostage situation that occurred in the summer of 1973 in Stockholm. One of the hostages had become so involved with her hostage-taker that she later married him. This is often compared to the relationship between some battered women and their abusive husbands. As a result of this syndrome, hostages may actively try to protect the hostage-takers by warning them of the approach of a rescue team or by putting themselves between the hostage-taker and the police (Thompson 2001: 36). The only exception to this relational development occurs when hostages are beaten or tortured (Poland 1999: 25).

A second relationship that can develop grows out of what Crelinsten refers to as the “fight or flight” response or even possibly the “medical” response, which involves fighting or annoying the captor, arguing with him/her or fleeing. This relational response is commonly characterized as the London Syndrome. This syndrome occurs when a hostage decides to act uncooperatively toward the hostage-takers. This especially includes behavior such as debating the ideology of the terrorist group involved, arguing with the hostage-takers, or becoming physically challenging toward the hostage-takers (Polland 1999: 27). The relationship that develops is one of annoyance, hate and resentment on the part of the captors. The usual outcome of this relationship between hostage and hostage-taker is quite different from that of the Stockholm Syndrome—a captor may come to dislike a hostage so intensely that at first opportunity he eliminates him (e.g. kills him) (Antokol 1990: 151).

The London Syndrome gets its name from an incident in 1980 in which the Iranian embassy in London was seized with twenty-six hostages inside. During a planned assault by the British authorities, one of the hostages was shot and his body thrown out onto the streets. After the hostage situation had ended, an investigation discovered that the hostage who was killed continually argued with the hostage-takers and would at times physically challenge them. After several hours of haranguing the captors, the hostage was shot and killed (Poland 1999: 27). When things do not develop as planned in a hostage situation, the captors often become agitated and upset. This case proves that, for a terrorist, losing face or feeling “out-maneuvered” by a hostage can have serious consequences for the hostages (Antokol 1990: 151)...(cont.)

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