The places you're most likely to get kidnapped.
Author: Gordon Bottomley
www.vocativ.com, Jan 07, 2014 07:57 EST
Additional reporting by Jan-Albert Hootsen in Mexico City and Jeff Neumann in Beirut.
What's my motivation?
overwhelming majority of kidnappings today are motivated by aims
that are chiefly financial in nature. Although kidnappers’
motivations can (and do) range from ideological to the more amorous
and/or custodial (think Helen of Troy), kidnapping has emerged as a
lucrative, reliable stream of income for organizations and
individuals (consider the fact that ransom payments in 2012 topped
How we know
began by collecting data on global kidnappings incidents by country
using a variety of sources, including government and
inter-governmental agency data, local, regional and national press
and media reports, global incident databases and forums, input from
relevant subject matter experts, and (yes) industry-specific reports
published by risk advisory firms, tourism groups and insurance
we filtered the unstructured data using unique keyword strings to
sort incidents into buckets based on specific parameters, such as
motivation, type and location. This enabled us eventually to focus on
the most relevant incidents for international travelers—that is,
kidnappings that are motivated solely by financial gain.
we combined incident information for each country with relevant
tourism and travel data, to find the intersection of popular travel
destinations that have relatively high kidnap rates.
It's a growth industry
is booming. To help you to stay safe when you travel, we've mapped
out the places where you face the greatest risk of getting scooped up
by rebels, terrorists or "mainstream" criminals.
are lots of reasons people avoid high-profile travel destinations—the
flights are too long, the hotels are overpriced, the beaches are
overrun with German men in skimpy swimwear. But there’s another,
sometimes overlooked criteria that you probably won’t find in your
copy of Frommer’s or the Rough Guide: The likelihood of getting
kidnapped at gunpoint.
you’re the kind of person who heads to the swamps of Nigeria for a
little R&R, it’s unlikely you’ve given much thought to the
threat of kidnapping when planning your trips. But kidnapping
has boomed over the past decade, thanks to the growing socioeconomic
divide around the globe and the spread of radical groups. While
kidnappers used to target rich locals, and the abductions were
largely confined to a handful of countries, these days foreign
business executives and tourists are now just as likely to be the
victims, and the abductions can happen virtually anywhere. Public
policy groups estimate there were more than 100,000 kidnappings
around the world last year, including locals and foreigners.
To make sense of today's kidnapping risk overseas, we've mapped out the places where you face the greatest danger. This isn't simply a list of places with the highest kidnapping rates, That directory would include no-brainers like Syria (which has been fighting a bloody civil war for the last three years) and Afghanistan (which has become a haven for Jihadists). We're assuming you don't need someone to tell you that those places are somewhat perilous for travelers.
list focuses, instead, on countries that are first and foremost
popular travel destinations—and that also happen to have a high
rate of abductions. There are some surprises on the list: India, for
example, might seem out of place among the world’s kidnapping
capitals, but the numbers don’t lie.
The official data is skewed
not easy to wrangle data on kidnappings. For one, both governments
and kidnapping victims are known to underreport abductions. Also,
there are a number of different varieties of kidnapping, and not all
countries classify each and every kind as a “kidnapping.” For
example, in parts of Asia and Latin America, so-called virtual
kidnappings are common—that’s where the bad guys claim
falsely that they have abducted someone and demand a ransom. In some
countries, these go in the books as “fraud” not “kidnapping.”
Another example: “Express kidnappings” where hostages are taken
for a day or two at most, just long enough to deplete their bank
accounts or max out their credit cards, are sometimes logged as
pulling together this list, we’ve adjusted for these various quirks
and discrepancies to focus on the types of abductions that most often
affect tourists and travelers. The countries below are ordered
from most kidnapping incidents to least.
group of people kidnapped by alleged drug traffickers sit on the
floor after being rescued by the Mexican Army. (Dario Leon/AFP/Getty
rate: Kidnapping isn’t a new threat in Mexico, but it is now
endemic. In the last decade, kidnappings have grown 245 percent (and
that’s just reported incidents). Last year, almost 1,583
kidnapping cases were reported to Mexican authorities—the highest
number since Mexico began tracking kidnapping stats in 1997.
the kidnaps typically play out: ”Express” and “virtual”
varieties that target both locals and foreigners. Last year’s
virtual kidnaps included a Spanish indie rock band visiting Mexico
City to perform in a music festival and a U.S. citizen participating
in an Ironman competition in Cozumel. The kidnappers demanded
$380,000 for the band. Both of these incidents were relatively
mild. The country’s kidnappers have a reputation for being
particularly violent: 935 victims were killed between 1994 and 2008.
fueling the kidnapping: The government clampdown on Mexico’s
drug trade has played a role, heightening competition among
traffickers and, in some cases, forcing the traffickers to look for
other sources of revenue.
bottom line: The droves of spring-breakers and
tequila-drinkers that descend on the country each year are safest
holed up in their private resorts, as Mexico has the highest
number of kidnappings in the world.
Maoist guards Italian tourist Claudio Colangelo and
Paolo Bosusco, both of whom were kidnapped,
in Orissa state, India.
rate: Kidnapping and abduction rates have grown faster than any
other crime over the past 60 years in India.
the kidnaps typically play out: Several highly publicized
abductions and rape incidents involving tourists last year made
headlines. One involved a 30-year-old American tourist who was
offered a ride back to her hotel by three men. Instead, the men took
her to a secluded spot and raped her.
fueling the kidnapping: Poverty appears to be the single biggest
driver. The country’s poorer states, like Bihar, regularly account
for a large share of kidnaps. Several larger criminal organizations
and rebel groups also use abductions to augment their revenue
bottom line: While visitors to India’s postcard-worthy wonders
like the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri can be reasonably confident of
their safety, both of these UNESCO heritage sites are in Uttar
Pradesh, one of the Indian states with the highest number of
Falls at Canaima National Park (Reuters/Jorge Silva)
rate: There were more than 1,000 kidnap-for-ransom incidents
the kidnaps typically play out: Caracas, the capital, has one of
the highest homicide rates in the world. One of the more recent
and harrowing kidnapping incidents took place in July 2012. A
Portuguese man was taken from a highway service station and held
captive in an underground bunker beneath a rural residence in
Carabobo state for nearly a year. He was rescued in June 2013
(the perpetrators did not receive the $6.5 million ransom they had
fueling the kidnapping: Lack of economic opportunities,
especially in Caracas, create an environment conducive to
kidnappings. In some of the city’s poorest areas, police are unable
to maintain order, and criminals have license to do as they please.
bottom line: Caracas is the country’s hotbed of kidnapping
activity, and there are fewer risks for foreigners traveling outside
the capital. But the key takeaway is this: Travel to Venezuela is not
for the risk-averse, as it remains one of the most kidnapping-prone
places in the world.
gunmen from the al-Muqdad, a large Lebanese Shiite Muslim clan,
they have kidnapped at least 20 Syrians to try to secure the release
of a family member. (AFP/Getty Images)
rate: Some estimates suggest kidnapping rates rose as much as 94
percent in 2013. Our analysis showed at least 39 kidnappings last
year, though given the current porous, shifting nature of the Syrian
border, that number is almost certainly much higher.
the kidnaps typically play out: While the majority of abductees
seem to be locals, aid workers, journalists and foreign tourists have
been hit, too. Seven Estonian cyclists were abducted in March 2011 in
an attack that Lebanese officials described as planned and
coordinated. The cyclists were freed four months later. The Estonians
later described their abductors as eight Islamic
extremists armed with Kalashnikovs who had pressured them
to convert to Islam.
fueling the kidnapping: Lebanon spent much of the ’70s and
’80s beset by a brutal civil war, and tit-for-tat kidnappings were
a near-daily occurrence. The end of hostilities in the ’90s ushered
in a period of relative stability, and tourism flourished. But the
civil war in neighboring Syria has plunged Lebanon back into chaos.
bottom line: As long as Syria remains mired in conflict,
kidnappings in Lebanon are unlikely to subside. For the moment,
Westerners have remained largely outside the crosshairs of
kidnappers. But, as one journalist warned back in
September, Americans and Europeans could easily become the next
victims, especially if local groups take issue with their countries’
Nido is bordered by the Linapacan Strait in the north, the Sulu Sea
the east, and the South China Sea in the west. (Getty
rate: Kidnappings in the Philippines nearly doubled in 2013—and
there were more than 20 kidnap-for-ransom cases alone, based on media
reports and government figures.
the kidnaps typically play out: Pirates trolling the Sulu Sea,
which separates the Philippines islands from Malaysia’s Sabah
region, have been the scene of numerous abductions over the last
decade. Just last November, armed gunman took a Taiwanese tourist
from an island just off Sabah after killing her husband. The tourist
was rescued a month later. Officials have not said if a ransom was
fueling the kidnapping: Criminals and separatist groups that
operate in the region treat foreigners, particularly wealthy visitors
from China, as human ATMs. Abu Sayyaf, a prominent militant Islamist
group with links to Al Qaeda, has been responsible for numerous
tourist abductions over the past few years. Some figures suggest the
group has collected over $35 million in ransom fees.
bottom line: Unfortunately, the coastal and island resorts in
the southern Philippines that are particularly popular among
vacationers are also frequented by kidnappers and pirates. The good
news? The vast majority of abductees have been released unharmed. (Of
course, that’s assuming you can foot the bill.)
in Colombia, a gateway town to the Amazon River (Wikipedia/Pedro
rate: The kidnap threat in Colombia has improved significantly
in the last 10 years, thanks to peace talks between the government
and the rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), with just 219 incidents reported last year, according to
Colombia’s Defense Ministry.
the kidnaps typically play out: A majority of the kidnappings in
tourist areas are “express,” usually lasting less than 48 hours.
During these “quicknappings,” armed gangs force their victims to
withdraw funds from one or more ATMs, sometimes using other proxies,
such as cab drivers, to facilitate the kidnap.
fueling the kidnaps: Economics. FARC, which has a history of
kidnappings to raise money, last year called a stop to that practice
as part of the peace process. It’s not uncommon for criminals to
claim kidnappings or other actions in the FARC’s name.
bottom line: While Colombia is no longer teeming with criminal
gangs and narco-traffickers the way it was five years ago, it is
still a volatile place. Risks remain for foreigners, more so for
employees of international oil and mining companies than sightseers
and vacation travelers.
statue of "Christ the Redeemer" atop Corcovado mountain in
Rio. (Reuters/Bruno Domingos)
rate: Brazil officially recorded 319 kidnapping cases in 2011.
But because express kidnaps—the most common type of extortion
scheme in Brazil—are not included in official kidnapping stats, our
analysis suggests that well over 6,000 kidnappings take place each
the kidnaps typically play out: Last year, an American
tourist was kidnapped, raped and robbed after the minibus she was
traveling on was hijacked by three men outside of Rio. The woman was
traveling with her French boyfriend, who was also abducted, beaten
and bound, and forced to watch the ordeal. The three men left with
the passengers’ credit cards, which were reportedly used in
multiple locations over the next few hours.
fueling the kidnaps: Kidnappings in Brazil are fueled partly by
organized crime, though many of the gangs are largely made up of
untrained thugs looking for a quick financial gain. As a result,
victims are often selected from Brazil’s lower classes because they
can be targeted with little preparation.
bottom line: Improvements in security in preparation for the
World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics in 2016 should slow abduction
rates in Brazil, which is far safer than most of its neighbors when
it comes to kidnapping risk.
taking cover behind a bar inside a shopping mall following an
by masked gunmen in Nairobi in September that killed at least 67
(AFP/Getty Images/Nichole Sobecki)
rate: In 2013, there were about 74 kidnapping-for-ransom
incidents in Kenya.
the kidnaps typically play out: A British woman was
kidnapped and her husband murdered in 2011 at a coastal resort near
the Kenya-Somali border. Six months later, a French national was
snatched from a private home in another heavily trafficked tourist
hotspot nearby. She died in captivity in Somalia.
fueling the kidnaps: Drastic socio-economic conditions and
general lawlessness in Somalia are boosting kidnappings in Kenya,
predominately along their shared border. These conditions serve as a
breeding ground for extremists, like Al Shabaab, as well as
bottom line: While Kenya’s wildlife safaris are a powerful
draw for travelers, the beaches and resorts on the country’s north
coast play an increasingly vital role in attracting tourists, but
that’s also where the kidnapping risk is greatest. Travelers to
other parts of Kenya should take precautions, too, given the recent
growth of certain terrorist groups in the region. In September, Al
Shabaab stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi. Though unconfirmed,
Al Shabaab is thought to be behind some of the more recent
Labels: attacker, Brazil, capture, Colombia, express kidnapping, gunpoint, high risk, hotspots, India, Kenya, kidnap, kidnap rate, kidnapping, Lebanon, Mexico, ransom, The Philippines, threats, Venezuela, virtual kidnapping