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Kidnap & Ransom update – February 19, 2019


1. (COLOMBIA, 18/02/19) Belgian kidnapped for three days in Medellin

Ruben Vanhees, who lived in Colombia half of the year to give English lessons and coordinate IT projects, described his almost 72-hour kidnapping ordeal in Medellin last week. The incident reportedly took place on 12 February, after he met a local woman he had contacted via Tinder app. After a few beers at the café located in the north of the city, the woman offered to continue the evening somewhere else, but said she needed to meet her aunt first. Both boarded a taxi, which the woman said she had called via Uber app. The taxi suddenly stopped along the way and two armed men burst into the car. He was attacked with an electric impulse pistol, and later bound and blindfolded. While he was kept drugged at a unknown location, the gang ransacked his apartment. The kidnappers also tried to force the victim to make money transfers from his phone, but it was not possible as there was no mobile signal where he was being kept. He was however forced to provide the codes for his bank cards, which they used to empty his bank accounts. Vanhees said he was later moved from his rural enclosure to a motel in the city because a rival gang had heard of the “valuable” hostage being held at the location. The victim was able to escape the motel when his guard fell asleep. He reportedly left the country on 17 February, with the help of the Belgian consulate. FULL ARTICLE (1)

2. (VENEZUELA, 18/02/19) Kidnapping targets designated by high-level officials of the Venezuelan security forces

In an interview with a Spanish news channel, the leader of a kidnapping gang in Venezuela revealed that high-level officials in the Venezuelan police and army designate kidnapping victims, providing gangs with information on potential targets. According to the man, who leads a gang specialised in short-term kidnappings, ransom payments can reach up to USD 50,000, although they commonly range between USD 15,000 and 20,000, which are paid within 72 hours. A percentage of these payments reportedly go to government officials and members of the gang only get about USD 700 per incident. Victims are mostly Venezuelan citizens, commonly businessmen, ranchers and traders. The kidnapper also said that negotiations continue until relatives pay the ransom demanded or until they are “ordered” to kill the victim. The bodies are reportedly buried in mass illegal graves in Caracas cemetery. He said no torture is inflicted on the victims during captivity. Gang members are commonly men under 40 years-old, some of them former policemen or soldiers. The gang leader affirmed that at least eight Caracas gangs are part of his syndicate, along with others in other areas in the country. FULL ARTICLE


3. (LIBYA, 18/02/19) Kidnapped Tunisian workers released

On 17 February, the Tunisian Foreign Ministry confirmed the release of 14 Tunisian nationals abducted in Libya. A spokesman for the Tunisian government said that (Libyan) “security forces stormed the place of their detention and were able to release them without fighting and no casualties”. He did not mention whether any arrests were made during the said operation. The 14 Tunisians had been kidnapped by gunmen on the outskirts of the city of Zawiya in north-western Libya. It remains unclear which militant group was behind the abduction, but initial reporting suggested it was not a formal militia. The kidnappers, in a video released on social media, had demanded the release of a Libyan man held in a Tunisian prison. FULL ARTICLE (1)

4. (CAMEROON, 18/02/19) 170 students released in Anglophone region

170 students and their teacher were released on 17 February, two days after their abduction by unidentified gunmen from their school in Kumbo town, in the Anglophone region of Cameroon. A local official said that over 50 people who had been kidnapped on the same day have also returned home. The government regularly accuses militants of abductions in the region, while the militants insist the kidnappings are staged by the government to tarnish their image. FULL ARTICLE

5. (DRC, 18/02/19) Aid agency suspends nonessential work after staff abduction

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on 18 February it had suspended nonessential work in eastern DRC after unidentified gunmen abducted two of its local staff earlier this month. The incident took place on 8 February, in the Masisi health zone in North Kivu province. A spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the country said the organization made this decision to force the population to ensure the security of its staff. FULL ARTICLE (1)

6. (KENYA, 18/02/19) Abducted Italian dealing in ivory trade, Kenyan police claim

Investigations into the abduction of Italian aid worker Silvia Romano have revealed that she may have been involved in ivory trafficking. Police investigations indicate that Romano, who was abducted from a remote village in Chakama, Kilifi county, had bought ivory pieces from Said Adan Abdi, a senior Kenya Wildlife Service officer (KWS) who was previously arrested as one of the suspected abductors. Romano was reportedly in constant communication with Abdi a few days prior to her abduction. According to the reports, she had received several threatening text messages from Abdi, demanding payment by the end November (2018). Police now believe that the kidnapping may be linked to a business dispute, in which Romano failed to pay for a large amount of illegal ivory she purchased and smuggled out of the country since April 2017. A police officer dealing with the investigation said her kidnappers are believed to be demanding ransom to recover the money from the ivory smuggling deal. It had previously been suspected that Romano was abducted by elements linked to Al-Shabab in a terrorism-related attack. FULL ARTICLE

7. (MOROCCO, 18/02/19) Kidnapped young man found dead in Fez

The body of a man who had been reported kidnapped was found by the police the next day. The man had been kidnapped from his apartment in the city of Fez on 16 February. On the same day, the kidnappers called his family and demanded a ransom of MAD 2 million (over USD 200,000), threatening to kill the hostage if the police was contacted. The victim’s family nonetheless decided to report the incident to the authorities. It is believed the kidnapers killed the young man after finding out about the report. The police determined the kidnapping was linked to drugs trafficking. Three men were arrested in the town of Ksar Sghir on 17 February, for his suspected participation in the kidnap/murder. FULL ARTICLE (1) (2)


8. (KYRGYZSTAN, 18/02/19) Kidnap victim rescued in Bishkek

Kyrgyz police rescued a kidnap victim in the capital, Bishkek, on 13 February. The man had been kidnapped the previous day from the streets of Jalal-Abad city. The kidnappers reportedly demanded a ransom of USD 20,000 for his release. The police rescued the man after receiving reports of a person shouting for help in a Bishkek apartment. The victim was able to do so after his captors had left him there unguarded. Police later arrested a suspect, who had a criminal record for similar crimes in Russia. FULL ARTICLE (1)

9. (PHILIPPINES, 19/02/19) Slight increase in kidnapping cases in 2018

Kidnapping cases rose slightly by 3% in 2018, with a total of 69 kidnap victims, in comparison to the 67 reported in 2017, according to a report from the kidnapping unit of the Philippine National Police (PNP). Most of the hostages (38) were abducted in Mindanao, by the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Meanwhile, Luzon accounted for 30 of the victims and Visayas for one. According to the report, 27 of the kidnapping victims were foreign nationals (39%), while 42 were Filipinos. The majority of the abducted foreigners were Chinese (17). Other victims were Indonesian (4), Indian (2), Taiwanese, Nigerian, Japanese and Malaysian (1 each). The police remarked that the number of Chinese victims increased by 112.5%, as only eight Chinese victims were recorded in 2017. The majority of Chinese victims were abducted by Chinese loan shark syndicates. FULL ARTICLE