In March 2013, David Haines and Frederico Motka were kidnapped while traveling together near the Turkish border in Syria. The men were both foreigners and aid workers. They were held in the same prison by the same militant group. Yet they suffered sharply different fates. In May 2014, Motka was released, while four months later, Haines became the fourth Westerner to be beheaded by the Islamic State. Press accounts noted that the major difference between the men was their nationality: Motka was Italian; Haines was British.
In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State began its campaign of public executions of kidnapped Westerners. Though these barbaric acts captured the world’s attention, hostage taking is not new. Nevertheless, research designed to increase our understanding of this threat is limited. As in the example provided above, most discussions regarding kidnappings rely on anecdotal evidence. A more detailed analysis of key questions regarding the role of group type, nationality of the victim, and outcome as they relate to kidnapping incidents has been lacking for want of publicly available data.
In an effort to address this, the CTC presents “Held Hostage: Analyses of Kidnapping Across Time and Among Jihadist Organizations,” a report that examines trends related to the kidnapping of Westerners by jihadist groups. The report relies on a newly gathered open-source dataset of the kidnapping of Westerners from 2001–2015, which the CTC publicly releases together with this report. We believe that the report and accompanying data will be an important resource for policymakers, practitioners, and academics interested in this area.
EDITORS NOTE: This column is by Seth Loertscher and Daniel Milton.