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Libyan Newswire

U.S., European policies on paying ransom for kidnapped citizens not in sync

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TerrorismU.S., European policies on paying ransom for kidnapped citizens not in sync

Published 25 August 2014

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by a militant from the Islamic State has focused renewed attention on the U.S. policy of not negotiating with or paying ransom to terrorists – and on the differences between U.S. policy and the policies followed by many European countries.

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by a militant from the Islamic State has focused renewed attention on the U.S. policy of not negotiating with or paying ransom to terrorists – and on the differences between U.S. policy and the policies followed by many European countries.

The U.S. government has refused to pay ransoms for American captives. Foley’s execution could have been avoided had he been a citizen of any one of several European countries which privately negotiate with terrorist groups to guarantee the safe return of their captured citizens. “I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed,” Foley said a few minutes before he was killed in the video released last week. “I guess, all in all, I wish I wasn’t American.”

The Atlantic notes that Foley’s regret at being an American captive – whether or not the words he uttered were dictated to him by his captives — could be understood, considering the fate of other previously captured journalists. Earlier this year, four French and two Spanish journalists held hostage by Islamic State militants were freed after their governments paid ransoms through intermediaries.

The Homeland Security News Wire recently reported that al-Qaeda and its affiliates in North Africa and the Middle East had received at least $125 million in ransom money from kidnappings since 2008 — majority of whom came from European countries. If the United States continues to maintain its policy against paying terrorist ransoms as a way to deter further kidnappings, then officials must persuade European allies to adopt a similar policy.

Ransom for releasing kidnapped Europeans has become an increasingly more important revenue source for militant groups. Confident that ransoms will be paid, terror groups are targeting European journalists and aid workers. In 2003, $200,000 was the average ransom for an al-Qaeda captive. Today, captors demand – and receive — millions per captive. “Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil,” Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, wrote in a 2012 letter to the leader of an al-Qaeda affiliate in North Africa, “which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure.”

Experts say that in the coming days and weeks, there should be a public debate on dealing with ransom demands from terrorist groups in the hopes that American and European lawmakers will adopt a united policy on the matter. For now, the world may expect future beheadings of captured American citizens as long as Washington refuses to negotiate with terrorists, while Europeans captured by terrorists can be sure that their governments will pay to set them free.

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