GENERAL

Terrorist kidnapping

3 December A report stated that the French government paid al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) at least USD58.1M in ransom payments between 2010 and 2013. Switzerland, Spain and Austria paid out USD21.5M to the terrorist group between 2008 and 2010. A further USD20.5M has been paid by Qatar and Oman which acted as intermediaries to free an Austrian, Swiss and two Finnish nationals from Yemen’s al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), between 2012 and 2013. Kidnappings by terrorist groups have increased substantially in recent years. There were 30 recorded incidents in 2014 compared with 23 incidents in 2013 and 16 in 2012. Overall, 171 foreign nationals have been taken hostage in 2014, an increase on the 44 kidnapped in 2013 and 75 kidnapped in 2012.

Ransomware

16 December According to IT security experts, cybercriminals are looking for safer, more effective ways to fool victims into parting with their money. “Your money or your data” is the favoured way to achieve this and the crime is known as “ransomware”. In some scenarios, victims are locked out of their cell phone or computer files and a message warns them they need to pay a ransom before their files are unlocked. Kevin Haley, Director of Product Management for Symantec Security Response, said: “It’s easier to kind of kidnap and hold hostage files than a person”. Ransomware attacks spiked in 2013 as cybercriminals adopted Bitcoin and other types of electronic payments to cover their tracks.

AFRICA

Mali

9 December French President Francois Hollande said that Frenchman Serge Lazarevic (51) had been freed by his al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) kidnappers. A Malian security source said that the release had taken place in the northern desert city of Kidal. The source added “I won’t say if there was a ransom payment or liberation of prisoners”. In November 2011, the victim was kidnapped from a small hotel in Hombori, northern Mali, along with fellow Frenchman, Philippe Verdon, who was killed in captivity in July 2013. The two, who worked in security and construction, were accused by AQIM of being French intelligence agents. President Hollande said that there are now no more French hostages anywhere in the world. At one time, at least 14 French nationals were being held by Islamists in West Africa. He urged French citizens not to travel to areas where there is a risk of kidnap. Malian Justice Minister, Mohamed Ali Bathily, confirmed subsequently that four Islamist militants were freed in exchange for Serge Lazarevic. He stated: “Yes, we did it and we have done it for Malians before, too”.

Mozambique

1 December It was reported that Georgina Mubai was released on 27 November after being kidnapped from her residence on 25 November. The kidnappers contacted her husband with a ransom demand of one million Meticais (USD33,000) but accepted a payment of 200,000 Meticais (USD6,700). Shortly after the release of the victim, the police arrested three of the four kidnappers. They are looking for the leader of the gang who they named as Betinho.

20 December According to Interior Minister Alberto Mondiane, Mohamed Bachir Suleman was released by his kidnappers on 19 December in Gaza Province in the south of the country. The police arrested three men as they tried to flee. The victim was kidnapped on 12 November by four armed men as he left the Maputo Shopping Centre. After he had been released, he told reporters that he was not well, saying he had been fed on four cookies and an apple each day. He added he believed his kidnappers were Zimbabwean and South African nationals. He was moved to various locations during the five weeks he was kidnapped. Officials said they did not receive any ransom demands from the kidnappers. Suleman said the kidnappers had demanded USD10 million from him when he was kidnapped. He told them he did not have that money and they reduced the demand to USD5 million which he said he also did not have. Suleman said he is working with the authorities to dismantle the kidnapping network in the country. A later report stated that Suleman was rescued by the police in a dawn raid in Macia town about 130kms north of Maputo while he was being transported between kidnappers’ safe houses.

23 December A spokesman for the Police of the Republic of Mozambique (PRM) said during a press conference that at least 19 people had been kidnapped in the country in 2014. Outside the capital, Maputo, there were six cases in Maputo Province, three in Sofala and one in Inhambane. He added that dozens of people, including some Portuguese citizens, have been abducted in the country during the last two years. Most were released on the payment of large sums of money.

Nigeria

4 December Durodola Muwalu, Manager of the Dam Jay Hotel in Lagos, was kidnapped as he drove to his house in the Ikorodu area around 7:00pm. The kidnappers contacted the victim’s family with a ransom demand of N60 million (USD340,000) but later reduced this firstly to N10 million (USD61,600) and then to N5 million (USD30,800). By tracing the kidnappers’ calls, the police located their hideout to in Ijebu Ode. The Lagos State Police Command Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) mounted a rescue operation on 16 December. The victim was released and four suspects arrested. The suspects admitted that the victim had been mistaken for the owner of the hotel. The police are looking for the mastermind behind the kidnapping and one other suspect.

14 December Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped at least 185 women and children and killed 35 other people during a raid on Gumsuri village in northeastern Borno State. Gumsuri is only about 24kms from Chibok where more than 200 women were kidnapped in April. The gunmen arrived in trucks, gathered the women together, loaded them on the trucks and drove away. News of the attack took four days to emerge because of the lack communications. Telecommunications towers in the region had been disabled in previous attacks. Survivors had to trek four days to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, to report the attack. On 20 December, the military confirmed that there had been an attack on Gumsuri village but said that reports of mass kidnapping needed to be verified.

16 December Pastor Ifeanyi Aniamaka, wife of Pastor Chris Aniamaka, in charge of Dominion City, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, was kidnapped by gunmen as she arrived back at her residence in Democracy Estate, Abakaliki. Her husband said that they had just finished their Thanksgiving Service for the year when his wife decided to drive the children home. The kidnappers told the children to get out of the vehicle before driving the victim away. It is believed that the kidnappers have made contact with the family and have demanded N20 million (USD123,000) for her release.

20 December According to the International Maritime Bureau, there were 33 piracy and armed robbery incidents by pirates operating off the coast of Nigeria, Togo and Benin during the period January to September 2014. Although this is a reduction from the 47 incidents recorded in 2013, it is much larger than the 10 recorded incidents off the coast of Somalia over the same period. The Gulf of Guinea is said to have replaced the Gulf of Aden as the pirates’ paradise.

21 December Funmilayo Abiona, wife of Oluseye Abiona, Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Osun State University (UNIOSUN) chapter, was kidnapped as she drove home from her shop in Oke-Baale, Osogbo. Criminals blocked the road and, after an argument during which she punched one of them, dragged her out of her car and forced her into their vehicle before driving away. Her two children were left in her car. Police are on the trail of the kidnappers. The kidnappers contacted the family and demanded a ransom of N5 million (USD30,800) for the victim’s release. She was released by her kidnappers on 23 December. It was not revealed whether or not a ransom had been paid.

24 December A military spokesman said that pirates had attacked a military gunboat on the Santa Barbara River, Bayelsa State, on 21 December and three soldiers appear to have been kidnapped.

23 December Police in Rivers State confirmed the rescue on 22 December of Emmanuel Obasi (3) who had been kidnapped by gunmen from his parents’ residence in Rumuekini, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area on 15 December. The police raided the kidnappers’ hideout at Rumuodogu II, rescued the young boy and arrested three suspects.

Somalia

16 December According to a report, 30 hostages of the Somali pirates are still being held captive in the country. Among the remaining hostages are four unnamed Thais from the fishing vessel “Prantalay 12” who were seized 1200 miles off the Somali coast on 18 April 2010. Six of the vessels’ crew are reported to have died when their vessel capsized during a storm on 14 July 2011. In addition, 26 anonymous Asian crew from the fishing vessel “Naham 3” who were seized in the Indian Ocean on 26 March 2012, remain in captivity. According to a report presented in October to the UN Security Council, these crewmen have been abandoned by ships’ owners and insurers who “have since become untraceable” or who are “unwilling or unable to resolve crisis (while) the states of nationality of crews lack sufficient capacity to respond”. During the height of the Somali piracy problem in 2010, 207 ships were targeted and by January 2011 the pirates were holding 736 hostages and 32 vessels. Figures released recently by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) show that by November 2014, there had been only 11 attacks this year none of which were successful.

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