James Foley beheading: Governments’ lack of consistency on paying ransoms puts lives at risk

 

Share

Four months ago, four French journalists held by Isis in Syria were freed after, it was claimed, François Hollande’s government paid a hefty ransom. The reports were quite detailed: the Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, it was said, had personally carried the cash to the Turkish capital, Ankara. The claim was denied by the Élysée Palace, which pointed out that “President Hollande has said it is a very important principle that hostage-takers should not be tempted to take others”.

A month before that, two Spanish journalists were also freed by Isis. On that occasion, the foreign ministry in Madrid refused to comment on whether money had changed hands. The government, a spokeswoman stressed, used “maximum discretion” when dealing with kidnappings.

This is in focus after revelations that Isis had offered to release the US journalist James Foley in return for money, and that this was rebuffed by the Obama administration. Two conclusions may be drawn from this: that Jim’s life was likely to have been saved if the money was paid, and that the declaration by the Islamist terrorists that they executed him purely in righteous retaliation for US air strikes against them is a sham; the ransom demands had continued after military action had begun in Iraq.

The wider issue is one of the lack of unity among Western allies on paying ransom to kidnappers. Britain and the US have a stated policy of not doing so. Others, despite their protestations to the contrary, pay up, although they launder the process through intermediaries. Two years ago, the G8 group of countries issued a statement saying it was repugnant to reward hostage-taking. A few months later, as four employees of the French nuclear firm Areva were freed after three years, Paris was forced to deny a ransom of €30m (£24m) was paid.

 

The French and the Spanish are not the only Western states accused of caving in to kidnappers’ financial demands: the same charges have been made against the Germans, Italians and Swiss. And just how scrupulous are the British in adhering to their stated principle? Paul and Rachel Chandler, a couple from Tunbridge Wells, were freed by Somali pirates who hijacked their yacht after £600,000 was paid out. The money was supposedly raised by the Somali community in the UK; but there were persistent claims that it came, in fact, from UK aid to the fledgling government in Mogadishu.

Ransom payments have become a highly lucrative source of terrorist revenue. “Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil, which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, to an associate two years ago. The New York Times estimates that al-Qa’ida and its fellow travellers made at least $66m (£40m) from kidnapping last year alone.

I know two of the six freed Spanish and French journalists quite well and I could not be happier that all of them are safe. Along with other friends of Jim Foley, I fervently wish he was still alive. But as long as Western governments remain divided on whether to pay to save the lives of their citizens, many of those whose work take them to hazardous areas will, unfortunately, continue to be hostages to fortune.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam