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Kidnap & Ransom update – February 24, 2019


1. (COLOMBIA, 21/02/19) Rancher released after 76 days in captivity

Rancher Alejandro Piedrahíta Betancur regained freedom after 76 days in captivity in a rural area of ​​Ituango, north Antioquia department. Although local authorities affirmed the rancher was released as a result of pressure exerted by the Colombian military on the kidnappers, some local sources sustained the victim’s family, who live abroad, paid a ransom of COP 500 million (over USD 160,000). Piedrahita Betancur was kidnapped by heavily armed men from his farm in the locality of El Río, on 5 December 2018. It is currently unknown who was behind the kidnapping, with a number of groups present in the area. These include organised criminal groups such as ‘Los Caparrapos’ and ‘Clan del Golfo’, as well as cells of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla and dissidents of the Front 36 of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). FULL ARTICLE

2. (US, 22/02/19) Somali-born US citizen charged with kidnapping American journalist

A US citizen born in Somali has been charged for his alleged role in the abduction of an American freelance journalist who was held hostage in Somalia for nearly three years. According to a criminal complaint, Abdi Yusuf Hassan was part of a conspiracy to kidnap the journalist in January 2012 in Galkayo, Somalia, and demand USD 20 million in ransom. The victim was released on 23 September 2014. While the journalist is not named in the complaint or in a superseding indictment, from information available on the case, it is believed the plaintiff is Michael Scott Moore, who was abducted by pirates in Somalia while he was there writing a book about piracy. The charging documents say that on 21 January 2012, the victim was in a vehicle in the vicinity of Galkayo when he was surrounded by a group of men carrying assault rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Throughout his confinement, he was held in different areas of Somalia, typically guarded by about 10 heavily armed men. When in a location near Galkayo, he was frequently visited by Hassan, who would act as a translator and would seem to hold a leadership position over the other guards, the complaint says. Moore has previously stated he was released after his family raised USD 1.6 million for his release. According to the complaint, Hassan entered the US in New York, on 15 September 2015, saying he worked as Minister of the Interior and Security for Galmudug State in Somalia, and that his job included arranging for the release of kidnapped people. FULL ARTICLE

3. (MEXICO, 22/02/19) Honduran migrant kidnapped for ransom at Mexican border

A woman who was arrested on 20 February by US Border Patrol in Eagle Pass, Texas, narrated how she was kidnapped in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. She was allegedly held at a safe house in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, by men who were supposed to help her cross the border, but instead demanded a ransom from her family back in Honduras. She said she was able to escape after three days, and then crossed the border in the city of Piedras Negras, where she was later arrested. FULL ARTICLE (1)

4. (VENEZUELA, 23/02/19) Swedish journalist briefly held by Venezuelan militias

A Swedish journalist reported she was briefly kidnapped on 23 February in the city of San Antonio, Táchira State, by pro-Maduro militias, also known as ‘colectivos’. Annika Rothstein said that after she and other colleagues were taken away, they were robbed of all their belongings, beaten and pointed with a gun to their heads. She said they were let go after two hours. This incident is one among the recent series of attacks against journalists in the country, both local and foreign, covering the Venezuelan crisis. Attacks reported over the past week have particularly taken place in border areas of the country. FULL ARTICLE (1)


5. (ITALY, 22/02/19) Italy confirms abduction of daughter of former North Korean diplomat

On 20 February, the Italian government confirmed that the teenage daughter of acting North Korean Ambassador to Italy Jo Song-gil, who himself disappeared along his wife in November 2018, has been kidnapped and taken back to North Korea. The news of the daughter’s repatriation was broken on 19 February by Thae Yong-ho, the former deputy ambassador at the North Korean Embassy in London, who defected in 2016. Italian political leaders said it was clearly an abduction of a minor on Italian soil and as such North Korea should be held accountable, being a case of “unprecedented seriousness”. Former Italian Senator Antonio Razzi, who was close to Jo, told local reporters that Jo and his wife, who went into hiding last November, had left their daughter because she is disabled. Meanwhile, Italy’s Foreign Ministry quoted the North Korean government as claiming in a note on 5 December 2018, that Jo and his wife had left the embassy on 10 November, and that their 17-year-old daughter had expressed the wish to return to her country, which was attained in the company of female staff of the embassy. FULL ARTICLE (1) (2)


6. (IRAQ, 21/02/19) Series of kidnappings for ransom in Baghdad

A series of kidnap for ransom events have been recorded over the past week in Baghdad. Notable incidents included the kidnapping of a young male near his residence in the Karada area, on 21 February. Kidnappers have reportedly demanded USD 600,000 as ransom for the young man. Previously, on 17 February, unknown gunmen kidnapped a young man near Baghdad’s Hay Aur area, demanding USD 100,000 for his release. CONSTELLIS’ SOURCES


7. (MADAGASCAR, 23/02/19) Woman kidnapped by mistake, released by soldiers

After eight days in captivity in the locality of Marikoro, Maevatana commune, a 22-year-old girl was rescued by members of the Malagasy army on 20 February. The army said they had been in communication with the kidnappers since 16 February, and that the original ransom demanded had been 30 million ariary. An agreement had been reached soon and the place for the payment had been set, however, the criminals did not show up, suspecting the involvement of the authorities. Although they still suspected the army negotiator (who pretended to be the victim’s uncle), the kidnappers continued with the negotiations, agreeing finally on a sum of 15 million ariary. It was established the payment would take place in Soamiarianarivo. There, the authorities tried to arrest the kidnappers, resulting in a gunfight that was profited by the victim to escape. The young woman had been kidnapped on 14 February, when armed men raided a property in Marikoro, looking to abduct the owner of the house, a businessman. According to reports, the businessman having been warned on the plot two days prior to the incident, had left his home with his wife. When they didn’t find the man or his wife at home, they decided to instead take their employee. FULL ARTICLE


8. (PHILIPPINES, 22/02/19) Abu Sayyaf threatens to behead hostages

Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants holding a Malaysian and two Indonesians hostage are threatening to behead the trio unless a ransom is paid for their release. The threat was issued on a video posted on social media on 14 February, which appears to have been edited from a longer video. The Facebook video purportedly shows Indonesian nationals Heri Ardiansyah and Hariadin, one of them with a knife held to his neck, appealing to the Indonesian president and the Indonesian negotiator to help attain their release. The two were kidnapped together with Malaysian Jari Abdulla, from their fishing trawler in eastern Sabah waters, close to the Philippines’ Tawi Tawi Island on 5 December 2018. The video surfaced several days after ASG gunmen reportedly called the Malaysian victim’s wife, saying that no Malaysian authorities or negotiators had contacted them to secure her husband’s release. During that call, the men allegedly threatened the woman, saying the hostage would face “difficulties” if there was no contact from Malaysia. Mrs. Nadin said it was the second time the kidnap group had contacted her. When enquired about the video, the Indonesian Consul in Sabah, Krishna Djaelani, said that ASG is demanding RM3 million (about USD 736,000) as ransom, although he did not know if the sum was for all the hostages or for each of them. He also said not knowing the details in the case of the Malaysian hostage. Delani affirmed the Indonesian government is aware of the latest video and although it has prioritized the rescue of its citizens, it will not negotiate with the kidnappers. Meanwhile, Omar Mammah, the Sabah Police Commissioner, said they have not verified the authenticity of the video, but even if it was proved genuine, “Malaysia’s stand is never to communicate or deal with the kidnappers”. He added that the Malaysian government is working together with the Philippine authorities to rescue the hostages. The Philippine government from its part, stressed it would not give in to demands from Islamic State-allied militants, despite their threat to kill the captives. FULL ARTICLE (1) (2)

9. (INDIA, 22/02/19) Businessman kidnapped for ransom in Haryana state

The owner of a brick kiln, identified as Vikram, was kidnapped by unidentified people in the Shahzadpur area of Ambala, Haryana State, on 22 February. One of the man’s friends witnessed the incident and reported it to the police. The witness said he was in a car with Vikram and another friend, on their way to Rajpura village, when at least eight men in two cars intercepted them, and after beating them, took Vikram away. Reportedly, using the phone of the third friend, the kidnappers called Vikram’s relatives to demand Rs 1 crore (almost USD 141,000) as ransom. FULL ARTICLE