Kidnap and extortion


Source: SOCA

The threat of kidnap continues to concern UK communities, law enforcement, and commerce and industry throughout the world. This is despite the fact that the UK is acknowledged by the United Nations as a world leader in reducing the harm caused by kidnap and blackmail offences. High profile kidnaps abroad cause harm at international, community and regional level. 

During 2008/09, police forces reported 2,034 kidnappings to the Home Office, a slight increase (2%) on 2007/08. Nonetheless, in recent years the overall trend in reported kidnaps is downward and the current figure is almost 30% less than in 2001/02 (2,795).  In practice, however, the true kidnapping figures are unknown.

Different types of kidnap

It’s likely that many kidnaps go unreported, as often the hostage and the person subject to the kidnappers’ demands are themselves criminals and have no wish to involve the law. These “vendetta kidnaps” generally revolve around debt disputes, for example linked to drug deals.

“Tiger kidnaps” involve the holding of a hostage, usually a close relative of the victim, to force the victim to facilitate a robbery.

Kidnappings abroad

Overseas, UK nationals are at greater risk of kidnap in areas of recent conflict or instability. There has also been an increase in the kidnapping of foreign nationals, for example in Pakistan, with ransom demands being made to overseas family members, including those in the UK.

In South Africa, criminals commit fraud by deceiving people to invest in items such as scrap metal and then lure victims to the country to be kidnapped to obtain ransom money. This technique has previously been associated with criminals in west Africa, including Nigeria.

Extortion / blackmail

Blackmail covers a multitude of criminal activities, including product contamination, and uses threats to get money, although other demands may also be made.

As with kidnaps, the true extent of blackmail and extortion offences (including “protection rackets”) by serious organised criminals is not known.  Fear, and damage to reputation in the case of retail businesses, may make victims unwilling to report instances.

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Tiger Kidnap – The Threat To The Financial Sector


Tiger kidnappers are usually able to coerce their victims into unlocking doors, entering the right codes in vaults and even warning them of special secret security measures.

‘Someone will be killed’

Although no relative has ever been murdered in such a situation, the thought in the back of the victim’s mind is enough to coerce them into co-operating with the gang.

“The increase in the rate of tiger kidnappings within recent years is believed to be attributable to a hardening of physical security standards while overlooking the important human factor.”

Mr Lewry  at Control Risks says the media under-reports tiger kidnappings, usually because the police and security companies are not keen to highlight the problem.

He says it is wrong to think only managers of banks and cash depots are vulnerable, pointing to tiger kidnappings involving jewellers, supermarket managers and even McDonald’s staff.

Mr Lewry says victims are usually terrified and traumatised, and rarely return to the workplace afterwards.

He adds it is very hard to combat tiger kidnappings.

“One way is to have a system whereby more than one person needs to be present for a door or a vault to open, but even then if someone’s family has been kidnapped, they will do everything they can to persuade their colleague to come in and help them.”

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Intelligence available to Crime and Security, the force’s intelligence department, indicates that gangs from Finglas and Coolock were trained in the use of military firearms and surveillance while attending a bodyguarding course in eastern Europe. They enrolled on the private military courses using the internet.

“A handful of suspects have attended bodyguarding and weapons courses taught by former commandos in the eastern bloc. These courses are usually offered to people who want to become bodyguards. They teach everything from how to use guns to counter-surveillance. Some courses train students in how to deal with armed confrontations,” said one security source.

“In this case, they are effectively training for kidnappings and armed robberies, and the day when they will encounter an armed response unit.”

Detectives have long suspected that certain criminals had received military or special-forces training. Kidnap victims taken in recent tiger raids have told investigating gardai that raiders operated in a military-style fashion and didn’t seem to panic when confronted with problems.

One witness described her captors as operating in such cohesion that she likened them to a Swat team. Other kidnap victims have made statements saying their captors worked as a close unit and were notably polite to them.

Another feature in several of the raids was the absence of CCTV footage of the suspects, leading detectives to conclude the culprits had been trained in counter-surveillance.

Gang members have also shown themselves to be more than adept at departing from crime scenes without leaving DNA traces.

The suspicion that Irish criminals have received firearms training poses a serious problem for specialist garda teams like the elite emergency response unit, which is tasked with combating armed gangs. It has also forced gardai to re-evaluate the threat posed by some gangs in the Dublin region.

Gardai believe the criminals enrolled on courses by booking over the internet. Private firearms and bodyguarding courses are advertised widely on the internet and in security publications.

Read about Panic/Safe Rooms here

Course attendance fees range from €4,000 to €25,000 depending on the tuition provided. Former commandos retired from the Croatian and Serbian armies act as course tutors. There is no indication that the course operators are aware of the ultimate intentions of their clients.

Modules for most courses include firearms instruction, counter-surveillance and siege situations. Students are also permitted to use a variety of weapons including Uzi submachine guns and semi-automatic revolvers while being drilled in firearms and shooting techniques.

There have been about ten tiger kidnapping in the past ten months, netting a few gangs in excess of €2.5m. Among the high-profile raids was the theft of €800,000 from the Permanent TSB in Coolock, Dublin.

A gang held the manager’s family hostage overnight before forcing her to hand over the cash.

Michael McDowell, the justice minister, has warned banks against co-operating with kidnappers. McDowell has told financial institutions that if they pay a ransom to gangs involved in tiger robbery kidnappings, they are endangering people’s lives.

Source: BBC and The Sunday Times

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Panic Rooms – How a Panic Room Works


Source: Howstuffworks.com

When you hear the words “panic room,” you might think of the 2002 flick in which Jodie Foster hides in a fortified room in a Manhattan town house. Foster’s character has a bevy of surveillance equipment and supplies, but thieves terrorize her and attack the room until she is forced to come out and confront them.

But panic rooms are generally less dangerous and exciting than they sound. For one, they’re usually called “safe rooms,” which makes them seem a little less dramatic. We can also trace their origins much further back than any Jodie Foster movie. Medieval feudal lords, for example, used safe rooms as protection from siege. But how close does Hollywood come to capturing a real panic room?

Today’s panic rooms can be extremely high-tech. Most security experts say that with basic communication equipment, occupants should have to hole up in the room for only an hour or two in case of a home invasion.

To understand the panic room, we have to understand why people want them. The most advanced fortresses come with hefty price tags, so only the wealthy can typically afford them. But in the wake of increased terror alerts and weather-related catastrophes in the United States, basic panic rooms are becoming more popular. They’re constructed of weather-resistant materials and are stocked with gas masks and potassium iodine tablets to protect against biological and nuclear attacks. And some manufacturers claim their rooms can accommodate families for an extended stay — even as long as a month.

Besides basic provisions and a good lock, panic rooms can include any number of features, from a battery of artillery to a fully stocked wet bar. But details are hard to come by — because people are paying for privacy, most panic-room builders are unwilling to disclose much information. In this article we will enter the panic room. We’ll explore what real panic rooms are like and how they came into existence. Should you get one? Where do you get one? And what makes them safer than any other room in your home?

Purpose of Panic Rooms

Think of a panic room as a vault for people. In a country of gated communities, panic rooms are designed to be the ultimate in security. They range from simple rooms with reinforced doors to elaborate mini-fortresses that protect their occupants against biological and nuclear attacks, hurricanestornadoes and home invasions. High-end panic rooms, made with the most advanced materials, are more like luxury dens than bleak storm cellars.

Most panic rooms have keyless entry for extra security.

Because of the Jodie Foster movie, many people associate panic rooms with home invasions, but this is actually not their most common purpose. As we mentioned, rooms built to withstand hurricane- and tornado-force winds have become more popular. These panic rooms are usually ground-floor closets or bathrooms whose foundations have been reinforced with steel and concrete.

Many people who build panic rooms are trying to protect things, not people. Panic rooms can hide computer hard drives or permanently house artwork, rare books and other collections. You can make your panic room into a custom-designed safe that stores your delicate artwork in an airtight, climate-controlled environment. Your computer files can be safely hidden but accessible via an exterior generator.

Depending on how much safety you want and money you have, panic rooms have a wide range of safety features. You can reinforce a closet and throw in a few emergency supplies or build a house within your house.

Walls

A panic room, at the most basic level, is a box with an opening. So all six sides of the box — walls, ceiling and floor — must be fortified. You can reinforce a closet with plywood if you want a storm shelter, but it won’t provide protection from invaders. The next step up is chicken wire or steel mesh, and blastproof Kevlar panels provide the ultimate protection. A cement-reinforced foundation can provide a stable base, and a steel ceiling, with optional Kevlar panels, will thwart invaders from bottom to top.

Most builders of modern panic rooms rely on lightweight Kevlar and plastics, allowing them to more easily build panic rooms on second floors — off of the master bedroom, for instance. However, the ground floor is still the safest place for protection against natural catastrophes like hurricanes and tornadoes.

Entry
Panic rooms are designed to hide their occupants, so one of the best defenses is the invisible entrance. Bookcase entries and hidden pocket doors are popular choices.

The door is the one weak point of the fortified box, so its reinforcements are critical. Even if your walls aren’t reinforced with steel, you might want to splurge on a solid steel door. Mortise locks, which are built into rather than attached to the door, provide another level of security, as do steel hinges and bolts. Steel doorjambs make it impossible for an intruder to kick in the door. High-end panic rooms often have keypad-controlled electromagnetic locks, which use magnetic forces to maintain the bond between a frame-mounted magnet and door-mounted hardware.

Most panic rooms do not have standard keys because they can be misplaced or fall into the wrong hands. Instead, doors might feature interior deadbolts, combination keypads or retinal or fingerprint-scanning devices.

Panic Room Features

Communication
It’s a good idea to leave a cell phone or ham radio in your panic room in case you need to communicate with the outside world. But if your panic room is too isolated or reinforced for reliable cell phone service, you can always install a buried phone line, an intercom system or an alarm button directly connected to a police or security team.

You’ll also want to keep your communication secret from intruders. Soundproofing the panic room prevents an intruder from hearing your conversations with law enforcement. And if the invaders do discover that you’re in the room, they won’t be able to taunt you verbally.

Surveillance
You might remember that Jodie Foster’s panic room had a wall of monitors that dramatically displayed each corner of the house. The typical panic room — if it does have surveillance — has one monitor connected to a number of hidden cameras. High-end panic rooms can also utilize heat-sensing cameras, so if the home is attacked at night, you can covertly check out who’s in the house.

Power
Most panic rooms are powered by generators. You have to be careful about ventilation, though, and always be mindful of carbon monoxide poisoning. Generators must be self-contained in the panic rooms, which necessitates more room — and more money. In the most basic panic rooms, battery-powered or hand-cranked lights and phones may be sufficient.

Air circulation
The most elaborate and expensive panic rooms are airtight, temperature- and humidity-controlled chambers. They can have separate air-filtration systems that protect from biohazards, and dummy vents to throw off invaders. And as a last resort, high-end panic rooms can include oxygen masks.

Plumbing 

Again, depending on how much you want to spend, plumbing can be as basic as a portable toilet — or you can install separate plumbing and a septic tank. Of course, you’ll want to stock the room with water(a gallon per person per day is a general guideline).

Supplies
This is where people can get a little crazy, depending on how much they’re willing to spend. The supplies are what help the occupants survive an attack — like food, water and first aid equipment.

Supplies for the über-wealthy can go way beyond the basics — to keep the masters of the house preoccupied with thoughts other than who’s stealing the good silverware, panic rooms can become luxurious dens with beds, wet bars and entertainment systems. Some owners even build two panic rooms: one for the parents and one for the kids. High-end panic rooms often include items like chemical washbasins — to rinse off biohazards — and gas masks.

Weapons
If you built your panic room to protect your family from hurricanes, stocking the room with weapons will probably not be a priority. But if you think you might have to defend your estate from armed terrorists, you’ll probably want an arsenal. Pepper spray comes in on the low end, and the sky is pretty much the limit on the high end: You can arm each member of the household with a gun, for example, or install high-voltage stun devices under the carpet in case an intruder makes it into the room.

Panic Room Construction and Costs

The easiest and most cost-effective way to install a panic room is during construction of a new home. You can work with an architect specializing in secure facilities or bring in a security firm during the blueprint stage. You’ll probably want to tell as few people as possible about the panic room, so the designer often does not tell the contractor about it. It might be called a “mechanical room” on the blueprint, and then you’d bring in a security team after the contractors leave. You’ll want to have the architectural and security firms sign confidentiality agreements to protect the secret room.

In existing homes, bathrooms, closets and wine cellars often get made over into panic rooms. A security firm can advise you on how to fortify a particular room so that it is easily accessible to you but not to intruders. Some companies also mass-produce personal safe rooms.

The big decisions depend on the purpose of the panic room. If you’re worried about safety from intruders, most experts say the room needs to hold long enough for the police to arrive, usually 30 minutes to a couple of hours. For protection from weather-related catastrophes, placement is the most important factor. The ground floor or basement is safest against a tornado, but high ground offers better protection against floods. Supplies and stability are critical.

For safety from nuclear or biological attacks, long-term protection is necessary. The Department of Justice Emergency Preparedness manual states, “Ten square feet of floor space per person will provide sufficient air to prevent the buildup of carbon dioxide for up to five hours”

. If you want to be able to hide out for even longer, check out fallout shelters: One German company, ABC Guard, claims it has made a portable fallout shelter that can house seven people for up to a month.

Panic Room Costs
Panic rooms are pretty expensive, but since they are mostly marketed to the very wealthy, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Construction of a high-end panic room typically starts at $50,000 and can reach beyond $500,000, depending on amenities.

On the low end, converting a closet or extra room into a panic room usually starts around $3,000. Plywood reinforcements for a closet cost about $2,500, and bullet-resistant electronic doors start at $22,000. Add another $3,000 to $10,000 if it’s professionally designed.

According to one estimate on Bankrate.com, adding bullet-resistant Kevlar, a dedicated phone line, backup generator and keyless entry to an existing room can cost $40,000 to $60,000.

Panic Room Popularity

Panic rooms are mostly for high-level executives, politicians and celebrities, although corporations do install them to protect execs from disgruntled employees.

According to some estimates, nearly every new mansion in Los Angeles has a panic room, as do many Manhattan executive suites and town houses. Others say the panic room is mostly an urban legend. The exact numbers are difficult to pin down because the point of the panic room is to be a secret hideout. In fact, most homeowners will not show the room to a buyer until the home is already in escrow — or they tear down the room before selling.

Since Sept. 11, more middle-income families have been investing in panic rooms. And abuse victims are increasingly utilizing panic rooms instead of fleeing their homes (see sidebar).

FEMA is encouraging people to share their ideas for weather-resistant panic rooms. Additionally, the agency — along with some cities and school districts — is considering safe rooms in hurricane-prone areas to protect emergency responders and to store important documents.

Internationally, panic rooms have grown in popularity. Embassies have used safe rooms for at least 25 years to protect government officials and important documents during attacks. Since the 1980s, every U.S. embassy has had a panic room with bullet-resistant glass. In Israel, all new buildings and apartments have been required since 1992 to include bullet- and fire-resistant rooms. In Mexico, where kidnappings for ransom are common, many people use safe rooms as an alternative (or an addition) to bodyguards.

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