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Isis hostage threat: Which countries pay ransoms to release their citizens?

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will try to persuade other G8 nations to stick to an agreement not to pay hostage ransoms

Kashmira Gander
Wednesday 03 September 2014 22:55 BST

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted that Britain will not pay ransoms to terrorists, after the Isis militant who claimed to have beheaded American journalist Steven Sotloff, threatened to kill a British hostage if the US did not stop airstrikes in Iraq.

Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said he had "no doubt" that "many tens of millions of dollars" that Isis militants - recently renaming themselves the Islamic State - had raised from ransom payments was going towards "promoting terrorism", including terrorism affecting the UK.

After Mr Cameron announced his aim to make sure other G8 countries stick to an agreement not to pay hostage ransoms, we explain the policies which some nations hold when it comes to freeing their citizens.

United States

The US will neither negotiate with nor pay kidnappers ransoms. On top of this, if an American company or private organisation pays out to free a captive employee, the US Department of Justice will accuse them of funding terrorism, and launch a prosecution, according the Telegraph. In light of these stark rules, the US has never paid for a hostage – meaning launching a rescue missions is the nation's only option. Sadly, as proven with the attempt to rescue journalist James Foley, who was beheaded last month, this approach is not always successful.


Like the US, the British Government will not pay ransoms or negotiate with terrorists. However, UK firms and individuals do make payments to captors. For example, after British yachting couple Rachel and Paul Chandler were captured by Somali pirates, a reported ransom of more than £600,000 was paid for their freedom.

While the Government will not help with the deals, it is not known to have prosecuted against these transactions in the same way as the US does.

On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed there had been an unsuccessful US-led attempt at rescuing the British man shown in a video of the beheading of Mr Sotloff.

US journalist Steven Sotloff (EPA)

Read more: Obama warns US 'will not be intimidated' by Isis militants
Obama under scrutiny as world looks to US for response to Isis


In stark contrast to the US and UK, Continental nations, including Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, have directly paid ransoms to hostage-takers. The nations are in turn accused of funding terrorism, with al-Qa'ida alone making $125 million (£75 million) from global ransom transactions since 2008 - $66m (£40m) of which was made last year, the New York Times reported. It is believed that North African al-Qa'ida agents have benefited most from this indirect European funding.


With its unrelenting approach, the state will strike deals and offer concessions for the release of its citizens, and even for the remains of soldiers killed in battle. But it is most unique for its policy of killing anyone who abducts its citizens, and has re-arrested prisoners it has released as part of an exchange, the Telegraph has reported.

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