How To: The Al-Qaida Guide to Kidnapping

The more Der Spiegel I read the more I’ve fallen in love with it; If only American magazines could come near the quality of Spiegel America would be far better off…assuming anyone reads it.

In this piece they cover a document which is a veritable “How To” on kidnapping by an Al-Qaida affiliate. Its equally fascinating and disturbing.

Kidnapping is okay — so long as it serves political or financial goals for a terrorist organization. It’s also fine if it draws attention to a political issue like, say, Chechnya. You should also stay distant from hostages — literally — lest you get to close to them, both physically and mentally. These are just a few of the parting tips offered by a top al-Qaida strategists before he was killed in 2004.

Ed: Full article below


SPIEGEL ONLINE – December 1, 2005, 03:34 PM
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,387888,00.html

How To

The Al-Qaids Guide to Kidnapping
By Yassin Musharbash

Kidnapping is okay — so long as it serves political or financial goals for a terrorist organization. It’s also fine if it draws attention to a political issue like, say, Chechnya. You should also stay distant from hostages — literally — lest you get to close to them, both physically and mentally. These are just a few of the parting tips offered by a top al-Qaida strategists before he was killed in 2004.

Kidnapping.com: An al-Qaida strategist offers online tips for would-be hostage-takers.
Kidnapping.com: An al-Qaida strategist offers online tips for would-be hostage-takers.

On Friday last week, 43-year-old Susanne Osthoff became the first German citizen to be taken hostage in Iraq. She joins a growing list of more than 200 foreigners who have been nabbed in the country since a wave of kidnappings began in 2004. Her hostage-takers are demanding that the German government suspend any ties it has with the Iraqi government in Baghdad. If Berlin doesn’t budge, they are threatening to kill her.

It remains unclear who kidnapped Osthoff — the signals are mixed and it is uncertain whether it could have been al-Qaida. Still, security officials say the presence of a political ultimatum increases the likelihood that it is linked to a jihadist group in Iraq.

Whether or not it is directly linked, al-Qaida operatives have been instrumental in helping to spur these kidnappings in Iraq. Within months of the first wave of kidnappings in 2004, a top al-Qaida strategist posted a “HOWTO” guide aimed at helping would-be extremists define the purposes of their kidnapping and providing tips for protecting themselves. After all, if they get caught before achieving their political goals or receiving lucrative ransom — which could be used to finance other terrorist acts — the kidnapping would have been for naught.

The author of the Web missive was Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, the former head of al-Qauida in Saudi Arabia. Shortly after writing his treatise, which in its simplicity reads a lot like a “Idiot’s Guide,” security officials in the kingdom caught up with al-Muqrin and killed him. Published in the 10th issue of the al-Qaida-produced online magazine Mu’askar al-Battar in May 2004, the essay serves the apparent goal of spurring more kidnappings while at the same time trying to add a bit more professionalism to them. No more garage jobs, this is Kidnapping, Inc., seems to be the subtext.

Since its publication, the under-reported document has been mirrored on countless Web sites used by Islamic extremists. SPIEGEL Online has translated excerpts that provide a glimpse of the internal workings of al-Qaida’s kidnapping operations — a potentially lucrative business that helps keep the terror coffers full.

Al-Qaeda chief in Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin: Before he was killed by Saudi security officials, he left a goodbye present -- tips for Islamic terrorist kidnappers who have made Iraq unsafe for any foreigners.
AFP
Al-Qaeda chief in Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin: Before he was killed by Saudi security officials, he left a goodbye present — tips for Islamic terrorist kidnappers who have made Iraq unsafe for any foreigners.

Goals and circumstances for kidnapping

A kidnapping, described here as “the arrest of one or more people from the opponents’ side,” should serve the following purposes according to Muqrin:

1. Force the government or opponent to fulfill a specific set of demands.

2. Create a difficult situation for a government in its relations with the countries where the kidnapped persons come from

3. Obtain important information from the hostages

4. Obtain ransom money — as, for example, our brothers in the Philippines, Chechnya and Algeria made happen and as our brothers in “Mohammed’s Army” in Kashmir did when they obtained $2 million in ransom. This money can then serve as financial support for an organization.

5. To draw attention to a specific concern — as occurred at the start of the Chechnya question or in Algeria, when our brothers hijacked a French plane.

Though the paper does not name killing hostages as a goal of kidnapping, it does not rule out the acceptance of ransom money — indeed, it encourages it.

Al-Muqrin also characterizes two main types of kidnapping: public mass hostage-takings and “secret” kidnappings of individuals.

In a “secret kidnapping,” he writes, a “hostage is kidnapped and brought to a secure location without officials finding out anything about it. This is the less dangerous of the two types. Al-Muqrin cites the example of “US-American Jewish journalist” Daniel Pearl, which he says was kidnapped in a public location and taken to a clandestine hiding spot. No one suspected he had been kidnapped until he went missing and the hostage-takers made contact. The essay also points to the hostage-taking of Jews by Chechens in Moscow or the kidnapping of tourists in Jemen as examples of clandestine hostage-takings.

Under the category of “public” hostage-takings, the al-Qaida strategist names the storming of the East West Theater in Moscow by Chechen terrorists — an act he describes as “100 percent successful” because it “once again catapulted the agenda of (Chechen warlord) Shamil Basayev to the world stage.”

Al-Muqrin offers no shortage of practical advice for would-be kidnappers to make their work more efficient and safer. A group in charge of conducting kidnapping should also split up into smaller subgroups — each with their own responsibilities.

Early reconnaissance group. They inform the kidnappers about the movements of the targert, for example if it has already reached the requisite location.”

Protection group. They organize the protection of the kidnappers from all outside dangers (…).

Kidnapping group. They transport the hostages and transfer them to the group that is responsible for security.

Take-down group. Its responsibility is to take down possible pursuers or defend the kidnappings from outsiders who seek to expose them.”

Susanna Osthoff, kneeling, in an image taken from a video made by her kidnappers. Her driver is blindfolded next to her.
REUTERS / ARD
Susanna Osthoff, kneeling, in an image taken from a video made by her kidnappers. Her driver is blindfolded next to her.

The hostages, al-Muqrin writes, should be housed in a place that can’t be seen by the “eyes of the state.” The hiding spot should be “far away from other neighborhoods” but not so desolate that it would “draw attention.” In addition, it must have several exits and be an advantageous location for a possible gun battle.

Al-Muqrin also provides details on how to treat a kidnapping victim:

How to treat a hostage

1. Search the hostage. Any weapon or anything that can be used as one or anything that can be used to draw attention to a place should be taken from the hostage.

2. Separate the hostages — men, women, young and old. One must be particularly careful with young men, since they could be capable of resistance. Immediately kill security officers because that will discourage the others from resisting.

3. Treatment of hostages should be based on the Sharia.

4. Unless it is unavoidable, one should remain distant from hostages — at least 1.5 meters

5. One should speak a different language or a different dialect than one’s own with the hostages in order to make it difficult for them to determine (the origins of the kidnappers)

6. Hostages should be blindfolded so they can’t recognize the kidnappers. Likewise, the faces of the hostages should be masked.

Al-Muqrin wrote his treatise on hostage-taking more than a year ago and today it is difficult to determine exactly how much influence it has on current kidnappings in Iraq.

Al-Muqrin’s HOWTO is also missing crucial details for kidnappers, like how to deal with the messy question of whether a hostage should be killed or spared. Nor does it mention what to do if a hostage turns out to be a Muslim, like Osthoff, who is a convert to the faith.

Given the author’s considerable influence in jihadist circles and other militant movements that have long used al-Qaida as their model, it’s conceivable that Osthoff’s kidnappers took their queue from al-Muqrin. But with so many questions left unanswered, it does little to shed light on Osthoff’s possible fate.

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Filed under al-Qaeda, Islamism, Terrorism

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