Kidnap & Ransom update October 21, 2018
21-Oct-18

AMERICAS

1. (COSTA RICA, 17/10/18) American national missing in San Jose

Costa Rican police are investigating the disappearance of the owner of local online sportsbook ‘5Dimes’ after he was reported missing late last month. American national William Sean Creighton, known as ‘Tony’, disappeared after he left work in San Jose on the night of 24 September. His wife, a Costa Rican national, reported him missing the following day. The head of Costa Rica’s Judiciary Investigative Police (OIJ) said no ransom demands have been received and declined to offer any further specifics, citing the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation. According to local media, Creighton was abducted by four men who forced him off the road as he was driving his car. It has also been stated that a ransom was demanded from his wife the next day, amounting to something between USD 750,000 and 1 million in bitcoin. Local sources have affirmed that the family paid a large part of the demanded ransom the same night, however the victim was not released. Reports indicate that Creighton’s family have since hired private investigators, allegedly former agents of the US FBI, who learnt about the case before the local police was notified on the incident. FULL ARTICLE (1)

2. (US, 18/10/18) West Haven officials pay ransom to cyber criminals

A statement from West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi confirmed the City Hall fell victim to a cyber-attack on 16 October. Rossi said the ransomware attack began between 2:49 am and 3:16 am and disabled 23 servers before being contained by 5:30 pm the next day. City officials and Connecticut State Police IT experts determined the best option was to pay the demanded one-time fee of USD 2,000 to unlock the servers. The money was paid and data restoration began shortly after the transaction. Authorities said there is no reason to believe that any data was stolen during the attack. The incident remains under investigation and the city is exploring measures to safeguard its technology from future attacks. FULL ARTICLE

EUROPE

3. (FRANCE, 18/10/18) Professional football player and associates accused of kidnapping
According to reports on French media, Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema and two of his associates are suspected of being involved in an abduction attempt, in order to recover a sum of money owed to the footballer. Leo D., agent of the player, filed a complaint on 15 October, regarding his attempted abduction on 7 October in Paris. According to the plaintiff, he was attacked after a game by a man he identified to be Benzema’s friend, who tried to force him into a van being driven by the footballer’s driver. The kidnaping was then reportedly frustrated by bystanders and his efforts to resist the abduction. The said incident took place in the context of a financial dispute relating to 50,000 euros, which had been paid in cash in Morocco by a sponsor in July, but were seized by Moroccan customs officials. Although Benzema was not present at the time of the attempted abduction, it is currently being investigated if the footballer masterminded the plan. FULL ARTICLE (1) (2)

MIDDLE EAST

4. (SYRIA, 18/10/18) IS take 700 hostages, including Westerners, Putin claims
Russian president Vladimir Putin, during a conference in Sochi, Russia, affirmed that the Islamic State group (IS) had taken nearly 700 people hostage in Syria, including several Europeans and US nationals, vowing to kill 10 hostages a day if their demands are not met. Putin however did not specify what the terrorists’ demands were. According to the Russian president, the group is keeping the captives somewhere south of the Euphrates River. Russia’s TASS news agency reported on 17 October that IS militants took nearly 700 hostages in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province on 13 October, after attacking a refugee camp in an area controlled by US-backed forces. The total figure of hostages and whether Westerners are among the captives has not been independently verified. FULL ARTICLE (1)

5. (IRAQ, 17/10/18) Son of Iraqi Ports Authority employee kidnapped in Basra

On 16 October, an employee of the Iraqi Ports Authority reported to police that his son had been kidnapped in Al-Abilla, Basra province. The man stated he had received a phone call following the abduction, during which a USD 50,000 ransom was demanded. The hostage was released unharmed near Jawabir Checkpoint in the locality of Al-Thaghar the following day. It is unclear if any ransom was paid, although the lack of injury and swift release suggests this is likely. Meanwhile in Diyala province, Iraqi officials affirmed that 18 kidnapping networks have been dismantled in the province over the past six months. Over 50 members of the said gangs, including a number of leaders, have been arrested. The authorities said these gangs were responsible for a number of kidnapping cases in the region, obtaining large sums of money for the return of the victims, a number of which were nonetheless killed. The same officials affirmed kidnap for ransom rates in the province decreased 95% between 2014 and 2017. CONSTELLIS SOURCE (1)

6. (YEMEN, 17/10/18) Houthi militias abduct football player

According to local media, Houthi militias abducted Walid al-Hubaishi, member of the Yemeni national football squad, and took him to an unknown destination. Al-Hubaishi was reportedly arrested at a Houthi checkpoint in al-Bayda governorate while he was heading to Hadhramout to join a training camp of the football national team. Al-Hubaishi was preparing to participate in the Asian Cup, but it is possible he will not take part as the Houthis are still refusing to release him. The reasons behind his arrest are unknown. FULL ARTICLE

7. (SYRIA, 20/10/18) IS frees six hostages in alleged agreement with Syrian government

On 20 October, the Islamic State group (IS) released two women and four children they had been holding since July, in the first part of an alleged exchange agreed with the Syrian government. According to local sources, the group was released in exchange for 17 wives of IS fighters and eight of their children held in Syrian prisons. The released IS hostages were part of a larger group of 30 Druze people kidnapped by the group in the southern province of Sweida on 25 July, during a raid on the city that left at least 216 people dead. One of the hostages died in IS custody while another was shot dead. In August, a 19-year-old hostage was also killed while in detention. 21 women and children still held by IS are said to be released in the coming days. UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that under the agreement, the Syrian government will release 60 women and will pay a USD 27 million ransom (USD 1 million per hostage). Meanwhile, state news agency SANA quoted the governor of Sweida Amer Ashi saying that the six hostages were freed as a result of a tight siege imposed by Syrian troops on the extremists in the desert area outside the city of Sweida. He said that more hostages will be freed soon. FULL ARTICLE (1)

AFRICA

8. (SOUTH AFRICA, 18/10/18) Seychelles citizen released after kidnaping in South Africa

According to a statement from the Foreign Ministry of the Seychelles, a 33-year-old Seychelles national was handed over to her family on 16 October after being held captive for three days in an unspecified location in South Africa. Reports stated that a ransom of 100,000 rand (USD 7,000) had been demanded by the criminals. The demand had been communicated by the victim herself on a phone call to her parents on 9 October. According to the Seychelles authorities, the victim’s release took place as a result of coordination between police from South Africa and the Seychelles, and the Seychelles Embassy in Pretoria. The circumstances of the abduction are still unclear; it is only known that the victim had arrived in South Africa on 9 October. An investigation is underway. After the incident, The Seychelles authorities issued a new warning for travel to South Africa, advising travelers to the country to inform their family members on their travel plans and take precautions with people they are in contact with over the Internet. FULL ARTICLE (1) (2)

9. (SOMALIA, 19/10/18) Attempted hijacking of Hong-Kong ship off Gulf of Aden

The European naval force reported that security guards aboard a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship had repelled a pirate attack in Somalia’s coast. The incident took place on 16 October at about 12:38 UTC, in position 00:49.0N – 050:53.0E, 341NM ESE of Mogadishu, Somalia, where pirates approached and opened fire at freighter MV KSL, attempting to board it. The four pirates, armed with AK-47, approached the moving bulk carrier in a speed boat. As soon as the Master noticed the approach, he raised the alarm, contacted local authorities, activated SSAS and all crew mustered in the citadel. The armed guards onboard the vessel then returned fire, resulting in the pirates aborting the attack and moving away. All crew was reported safe after the incident. This is the second reported attempt by Somali pirates to seize a commercial ship this year. The last reported attack off Somalia took place in February, when guards aboard the Singaporean-flagged chemical tanker MT Leopard Sun repulsed pirates who had shot at it. FULL ARTICLE (1) (2)

10. (TANZANIA, 20/10/18) Tanzanian billionaire released after nine days in captivity

Tanzanian billionaire Mohammed Dewji was found early on 20 October at the grounds of the Gymkhana club in Dar es Salaam. This took place nine days after he was seized by gunmen outside a luxury hotel in the same city as he was arriving for his early morning workout. A video released on the same day showed a shaken Mohammed Dewji after his release. No additional details have been provided on his release and it is unclear whether a ransom was paid. Dewji’s kidnapping made international headlines, with his family offering a reward of one billion Tanzanian shillings (USD 440,000) for information leading to his rescue. Investigations on the case determined that the vehicle used in Dewji’s kidnapping was driven to Tanzania from an unspecified “neighbouring country” and that at least two foreign white males had participated. A Kenyan woman has also been linked to the crime after a number of photos of victim in several boats in Mombasa and South Africa were found on the woman’s web page. At least 27 people were arrested since the incident, of which eight remain in police custody. The business tycoon has previously served as member of the parliament, and is described as Africa’s youngest billionaire. FULL ARTICLE (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

ASIA

11. (GEORGIA, 18/10/18) Kidnap victim rescued in Tbilisi

On 18 October, Georgian police rescued a kidnap victim and detained a group of 10 people suspected in the crime. According to the authorities, this was the result of a number of simultaneous operations carried out by law enforcement agencies in the capital, Tbilisi, and the western Georgian region of Imereti. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a group of armed men kidnapped the 23-year-old victim in one of the districts of Tbilisi. Reportedly, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of 3 million lari (over USD 1 million) and threatened to kill the victim if this was not paid. The victim’s father reported the incident as soon as he received the ransom call. Investigations determined the victim was being held at a village in Imereti. The police report did not mention why the man was targeted. FULL ARTICLE

12. (PAKISTAN, 18/10/18) Kidnapped businessman set free; five held

Punjab police claimed to have secured the release of a kidnapped factory owner and arrested five alleged kidnappers. Sardar Muhammad was held captive for five days and his kidnappers had demanded Rs10.5 million (USD 78,600) in ransom. The victim was reportedly rescued during a police raid at a neighborhood of Gujranwala city, where five suspects were also arrested. The five later confessed to their crime. Further investigation is underway to ascertain whether or not the accused are only kidnappers or ran a larger criminal racket. FULL ARTICLE

13. (PHILIPPINES, 18/10/18) Abu Sayyaf hostage released after paying ransom

On 17 October, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) released one of their kidnap victims after the his family paid a P1.2 million (USD 22,300) ransom. Authorities said the ASG released Rufo Roda to a person who took part in the negotiation, in downtown Jolo, Sulu. Roda, a militiaman, was abducted in Piacan, Zamboanga del Norte, on 31 August along with his wife, Helen. It is reported that the payment was supposed to get the couple released, but the group only freed the husband. FULL ARTICLE (1)

14. (PAKISTAN, 20/10/18) Pakistani kidnapping gang found funding IS in Afghanistan

According to Pakistani authorities, they recently dismantled a kidnapping gang in Karachi, arresting three suspects. One of the arrested suspects was identified as the head of the Islamic State (IS) in Karachi. The three men were arrested as the police investigated the kidnapping of a man from the Karachi area of Gulistan-i-Jauhar. The man was reportedly released by the group after they received a ransom payment of over Rs10 million (over USD 75,000). After their arrest, the suspects confessed to their involvement in several cases of kidnapping for ransom in the city. Police sources confirmed this group was involved in at least six kidnapping for ransom cases in Karachi. The funds generated by these activities, were reportedly sent to the head of IS in Afghanistan through hundi and hawala systems, allegedly to fund terrorist acts in Pakistan. The arrested claimed that these acts comprised a number of attacks in Sindh and Balochistan, including the deadly blasts at Sehwan Sharif and Shah Noorani. FULL ARTICLE (1)