Claims, counter-claims and splinter groups have emerged over the past week in relation to who holds the various individuals kidnapped in the Sahel. While there have been numerous incidents since 2008. It is sobering to look backwards and remark that 20 years ago, Hermann & Hermann wrote “Hostage episodes can no longer be regarded as anomalous. They have become an insidious feature of the contemporary international political landscape. Recent history has shown that no government or political system is immune from this phenomenon, and none has any entirely satisfactory answers about how to deal with it” (Hermann & Hermann, 1990; 211).
Liberation’s recent article on the processes involved to secure the release of hostages in the region is a salutary reminder that “Hostage taking has been called “smart terrorism”, because the terrorists involved maintain control over the situation, gain media attention for their cause over a sustained period of time, and force governments to recognize them in the course of any negotiations to free the hostages. In effect, the leadership of the terrorist group taking the hostages becomes the puppet master, pulling the strings – some might say jerking the strings – of the government whose people are taken hostage. The aims of the terrorist organization are to gain maximum press and television coverage for their cause and themselves and to increase their bargaining power for the next round” (Sick, 1990; 231).
The book from which these two articles are drawn, “Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind”, is well worth re-reading not only for the pieces on hostage-taking and the policy implications but for two excellent articles by Martha Crenshaw. For a review of the book see here.
ANI. (2011, December 09). Exclusif :ANI publie les photos de 5 otages occidentaux sequestrés par AQMI dans le nord du Mali.
ANI. (2011, December 10). Des dissidents d’Aqmi revendiquent l’enlèvement de 3 Occidentaux.
Hermann, M.G. & Hermann, C.F. (1990). Hostage Taking, The Presidency ,and Stress. In Reich, W. (ed). Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind. (2nd ed). Woodrow Wilson Center Press: Washington.
Horfung, T. (2011, December 09). Sahel: La bataille des otages. Liberation. pp.36-37.
Sick, G. (1990). Taking Vows: the domestication of policy-making in hostage incidents. In Reich, W. (ed). Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind. (2nd ed). Woodrow Wilson Center Press: Washington, pp.230-244