December 21 , 2014
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
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.
- 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.
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.
- Source: smarttraveller.gov.au