Foley death underlines agony of ransom payment

Paris - To pay or not to pay? James Foley's beheading underscores the agonising dilemma governments face in hostage situations: paying a ransom that funds kidnappers and encourages more hostage-taking or refusing and risking the US journalist's fate.

For a long time, the United States and Britain have refused to allow any money to change hands while other European countries - including France - have paid up, although this is officially denied.

A source who took part in efforts to free James Foley, who did not wish to be identified, said that after months of uncertainty over his whereabouts, the hostage's family received a letter demanding an unrealistic ransom of $100m.

But the US administration stuck firm to its line: There was no question of paying this ransom or entering into talks on this basis.

On 13 August, according to the same source, Foley's family received another letter saying their son would be executed in retaliation for US air strikes on Islamic State positions.

Less than a week later, the world was horrified by the video posted online of his brutal execution.

"Washington can negotiate on other matters. We saw that recently in Afghanistan where they freed Guantanamo prisoners in exchange for their captured soldier," said Alain Chouet, a former top official at France's DGSE external intelligence service.

"But, like the British or the Israelis, their policy is consistent: we do not pay," Chouet told AFP.

The issue of hostages is "a real dilemma," he said.

"On the one hand, one has to defend ones citizens by whatever means possible. On the other hand, experience shows that if you don't pay, you have fewer people taken.

"We, the countries that do pay, are sometimes considered by terrorist groups as a cash cow. We bring them an income. It's a bit easy," he said.

Break the cycle

At a London conference two years ago, David Cohen, US Treasury under-secretary of state in charge of terrorism, estimated that kidnappers had netted around $120m in ransoms between 2004 and 2012.

"Ransom payments lead to future kidnappings, and future kidnappings lead to additional ransom payments. And it all builds the capacity of terrorist organisations to conduct attacks," he said.

"We must find a way to break the cycle."

Refusing to pay ransoms is "the surest way to break the cycle, because if kidnappers consistently fail to get what they want, they will have a strong incentive to stop taking hostages in the first place," he said.

Hostage takers clearly distinguish between those governments that pay ransoms and those that do not, said Cohen, pointing to US information that in 2011, al-Qaeda was targeting mainly Europeans, not Americans for exactly that reason.

The difference is felt in captivity as well, according to former victims.

Nicolas Henin, a former French hostage who was held with James Foley, told AFP: "The hostages coming from countries with a reputation for not paying are aware that their case is more complicated."

Another former French hostage, who declined to be named, added that US hostages "have a different experience in captivity. For them, the fear is much stronger. They know that unlike us, their government will not negotiate."

Held by the Taliban for more than seven months in 2009 before managing to escape, US journalist David Rohde used an op-ed in The Atlantic weekly to call on Western powers to harmonise their policies on ransoms.

Foley's death is "the clearest evidence yet of how vastly different responses to kidnappings by US and European governments save European hostages but can doom the Americans."

"A consistent response to kidnapping by the US and Europe is desperately needed. The current haphazard approach is failing.

"James Foley must not die in vain," he wrote.

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Terry Weddell 2014-08-21 09:31:05 PM
they say they will find the guy who did the job. ???? in two years they did not find Foley ??????????????
Menzi Mnandi Phewa 2014-08-21 09:35:16 PM
They must stop going to these unstable countries....
Ennio Morricone 2014-08-21 09:46:38 PM
What about paying ransom, hostage released then rain them with napalms.
Jack Jones 2014-08-21 10:19:36 PM
These killing are all senseless. Human life id human life and all these killings should be condemned. U can blame america and the west, but we have all been given brains to think what is right n wrong. N isis is wrong. Do some research about the false leaders who will rise and lead many muslims astray. Dont follow like sheep and use ur brains
Bob Small 2014-08-21 10:25:48 PM
Simple for every westerner they behead.....Take out 10,000 of them! The bomb on Hiroshima worked.....we can't stand this bullsh*t These people are radically mad
Andrew Wilson 2014-08-22 12:36:54 AM
Unfortunately the US had to stand their ground .... logic dictates that one cannot negotiate with hostage takers. However, now the guilty parties need to feel the full might of the Westerners wrath. A smart bomb targeting a verified terrorist training camp should deliver that message effectively
Irrepressible 2014-08-22 02:50:29 AM
The only reason they don't pay any random is because non of their family members has been taken as yet.. They will sing a different tune when the shoe is on the other foot.
ReaperAJ 2014-08-22 06:22:47 AM
The Middle East is not going to stay out of our countries, I can promise you that. Look at how Boko Harem are spreading out at the top of Africa. USA definitely needs to end this. I know it's bloody awful to sacrifice innocent people, and it's a terrible way to think when a country seems a worthy sacrifice to save the world, but what else can be done? It's them or the rest of us. They are spreading out around the world like a cancer and strengthening their network. It's a mess :(
Mohammed Salajee 2014-08-22 07:07:57 AM
Americans agenda is to go in a country for they resources oil etc that's the reason they against the west.plz stay out &dont put ur 2 cents.not needed only causing bloodshed.
MeThinks 2014-08-22 09:16:55 AM
If it's yo child, I think u would pay