Kidnapping threat worldwide

Latest update

This Bulletin was last issued on Tuesday, 07 October 2014.   It contains new and updated information on recent kidnappings in Algeria, Cameroon, Colombia, Iraq, Nigeria, Malaysia and Somalia. Turkey has been added to the list of countries where the kidnapping threat is prevalent. If you intend to travel to a location where there is a particular threat of kidnapping you should seek professional security advice and have effective personal security measures in place.

There is an ongoing threat of kidnapping in many parts of the world. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is aware of a number of kidnapping cases involving Australians, including cases of:

  • kidnapping for ransom;
  • kidnapping for ideological reasons;
  • kidnapping with political elements and demands; and
  • kidnapping by pirates.

The Australian Government recommends that Australians closely consider their need to travel to locations where there is a high threat of kidnapping. We assess that the threat of kidnapping is highest in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Malaysia (eastern Sabah), North Africa and parts of west Africa, the southern Philippines, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. See under ‘Particular areas of concern’ – below.

Countries where the threat of kidnapping is also prevalent include Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia and Turkey.

For all of these countries, you should carefully read the destination-specific advice.

If you do decide to travel to countries, or areas of countries, where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, you should seek professional security advice and have effective personal security measures in place. You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times and watch for any suspicious or unusual activity.

The Australian Government’s Role

The Australian Government’s ability to provide consular assistance to Australian citizens may be severely limited in locations where we recommend against all travel and in places where the security situation is particularly dangerous or access is limited.

Should an Australian be kidnapped, the Australian Government will work closely with the government of the country in which the kidnapping has taken place, as well as other governments, to ensure that all appropriate action to resolve the situation is pursued actively. We will provide information to families on what they can expect and provide them with clear and up-to-date information on developments in the case to help them make informed decisions.

The Australian Government does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians. Ransom payments to kidnappers, many of whom are associated with proscribed terrorist groups, are also known to have funded subsequent terrorist attacks.

Threat

Terrorist groups often target foreigners. In some instances, terrorists have killed their victims when their demands were not met. Some are kidnapped for ideological or political reasons, leaving little or no room for negotiation. Foreigners overseas, particularly those working in the oil and mining industry, aid and humanitarian sectors, journalists and tourists are regularly targeted.

Terrorists may use local merchants such as tour and transport operators to identify foreign visitors for potential kidnap operations. Hostages may be taken by their captors into a neighbouring country. For example, humanitarian workers and tourists in Kenya have been kidnapped by militants and held in Somalia.

Cultural festivals in remote locations are also attractive places for terrorists and criminals to identify and target tourists for kidnapping. These festivals bring people to predictable locations along unsecured routes, including in parts of Africa where the threat of kidnapping is highest.

Criminal groups often kidnap tourists who are forced to withdraw money from ATMs. This is known in some locations as “express kidnapping”. It is common in countries in Central and South America, especially Mexico and Colombia, but does occur in other countries. In some cases victims have been killed or injured while attempting to resist the kidnappers. Using ATMs located inside banks, hotels and shopping centres during daylight hours may reduce the risk.

You should be aware that some criminals pose as unlicensed taxi drivers. Once the victim is in the cab they are held until they agree to withdraw money. Always use licenced taxi services.

An increasing number of foreigners have recently been kidnapped and held for ransom by criminals who operate sophisticated online financial scams which lure victims to locations in Africa, including Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa. You should treat with scepticism any online invitation you receive to travel to an unfamiliar location.

Another trend is “virtual kidnapping”. This is when extortionists, posing as law enforcement officials, call the family or friends of the victim and demand payment in return for release of the allegedly arrested family member or friend. You should avoid divulging financial, business or personal information to strangers.

Pirates have also kidnapped hundreds of people, usually holding them for ransom. Pirates have attacked all forms of shipping, including commercial vessels, pleasure craft (such as yachts) and luxury cruise liners. This is particularly prevalent off the coast of Somalia and Yemen (including the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden), in the Gulf of Guinea and near Mindanao and in the Sulu Sea. See our piracy bulletin for more information.

Particular areas of concern

Afghanistan: All parts of Afghanistan are subject to a high threat of kidnapping. A number of foreigners have been kidnapped in Afghanistan and held captive for an extended period of time. Foreign kidnapping victims have been murdered by their captors.

Colombia: In South America, terrorist groups are known to kidnap for ransom. Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world, often perpetrated by groups such as the FARC and the National Liberation Army in rural areas. Foreigners, including children, have been kidnapped and murdered.

North and West Africa: Instability in parts of North and West Africa such as northern Mali, Libya and north-eastern Nigeria have increased the risk of kidnapping throughout the region. Terrorists based in Mali and Nigeria have carried out a number of kidnappings over the past two years, including in Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria. Further kidnappings are likely, especially in Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia.

Southern Philippines/eastern Sabah: There is a persistent threat of kidnapping in southern Philippines, including coastal and island resorts and dive sites, particularly in remote locations in the Sulu Sea. The situation in the southern Philippines also creates an ongoing risk of kidnapping in the coastal region of eastern Sabah in Malaysia, which is highest in the area between the towns of Sandakan and Tawau and particularly at outlying resorts.

Syria and Iraq: The conflict in Syria has resulted in the kidnapping of a significant number of foreign nationals, including media and humanitarian workers. Since August 2014, a number of foreign nationals kidnapped in Syria have been executed by their captors. The escalation of violence in Iraq since June 2014 has resulted in a significantly less predictable security environment and an increased threat to foreigners. Groups based in Syria and Iraq are more likely to execute their hostages for propaganda purposes than to seek to use them for negotiation or bargaining.

Yemen and Somalia: The threat of kidnapping in Yemen and Somalia is ongoing. Foreigners, especially Westerners, are highly prized by criminals and terrorists. Large ransom payments paid for the release of some hostages reinforce the effectiveness of kidnapping as a viable source of revenue. Tribal and criminal groups also conduct kidnappings of foreigners to use as leverage in local disputes and negotiations with the government. Any foreigner kidnapped in Yemen or Somalia is in danger of being on sold to terrorists. Sailors on ships and yachts off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean are also a regular target for kidnappers.

Recent kidnappings

Recent kidnapping incidents include:

  • In September 2014, a French national was kidnapped while hiking in the mountains of northeast Algeria and later murdered by his captors.
  • In September 2014, a US journalist was released after being held captive in Somalia for over three years.
  • In August, September and October 2014, UK and US nationals kidnapped while working in Syria were murdered by their captors.
  • In August 2014, a foreign national was kidnapped in Oyo State, Nigeria.
  • In August 2014, a Canadian national was released after being held hostage in Colombia for seven months.
  • In August 2014, three foreign nationals kidnapped in Libya were released after being held for four months.
  • In July 2014, a number of foreigners kidnapped near Tripoli, Libya, were released by their captors.
  • In June 2014, a foreign national was kidnapped near the town of Kunak in eastern Sabah, Malaysia.
  • In May 2014, Jordan’s Ambassador to Libya was released after being kidnapped in Tripoli in February.
  • In April 2014, a foreign tourist was kidnapped from a resort in eastern Sabah, Malaysia.
  • In April 2014, extremists attempted to kidnap foreign aid workers from the Dabaab refugee camp in Kenya, near the border with Somalia.
  • In April 2014, a Canadian and two Italian nationals were kidnapped from their residence in Tchere in the Far North Region of Cameroon and later released.
  • In April 2014, two German nationals were kidnapped from a yacht in the Sulu Sea in the Philippines.
  • On 2 April 2014, a foreign tourist and local employee were kidnapped from a resort in eastern Malaysia.
  • In January and February 2014, several foreigners were kidnapped in separate incidents in the Yemeni capital Sana’a.
  • In January 2014, a South Korean official was kidnapped in Tripoli, Libya.
  • In January 2014, two Italian nationals were kidnapped near Derna, Libya.
  • In November 2013, two Taiwanese tourists were attacked in their hotel on an island off the coast of eastern Sabah, Malaysia. One tourist was murdered and another was kidnapped.
  • In November 2013, two French journalists were kidnapped in northern Mali and later found murdered.
  • In September and October 2013, a foreigner working with the UN and a foreign journalist were kidnapped in Sana’a, Yemen.

Traveller’s responsibilities

Having made a decision to enter a high risk zone, it is the responsibility of the traveller or their employer to do their own security risk assessments and to put in place their own security arrangements to reflect those assessments. The Australian Government is not able to provide security protection to travellers in such circumstances.

Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:

  • register your travel and contact details with us so we can contact you in an emergency. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.
  • organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy. Travel insurance policies do not provide coverage for kidnapping, and cannot be used to pay ransoms.
  • subscribe to the travel advice for the destination you intended to travel to in order to receive free email updates each time the travel advice is reissued.
  • before travelling to areas where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, seek professional security advice and ensure effective personal security measures are implemented.

Where to Get Help

You can obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact an Australian diplomatic mission, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Further information

Information on mitigating the risk of kidnapping is in the Advice for Australian business travellers. ASIO’s Business Liaison Unit provides credible, intelligence-based information on matters affecting the security of Australian business, including those based in offshore locations.

Australian companies seeking further information about the Australian Government’s kidnapping policy should contact consular.feedback@dfat.gov.au.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.