Kidnap risk increasing for technical professionals overseas
9 October Speaking at IP EXPO 2015, Chris Phillips, head of physical security consulting at penetration testing and training provider 2-Sec, said the numbers of professionals, including engineers and technologists, kidnapped for ransom during client visits, or while working in territories with a risk of abduction, is not being accurately assessed because employers are surreptitiously paying ransoms. He added that foreign criminals are easily able to scan social media to find out when personnel from high-tech companies will be travelling abroad. One trick employed by the kidnappers is to have a bogus driver waiting at the airport holding up a sign with the traveller’s name.
29 October Two kidnappings in different parts of the world have drawn attention to the use of the digital currency, bitcoin (BTC), as a medium for paying ransoms. The first example is the recent kidnapping of Hong Kong tycoon, Wong Kwan (68), Chairman of Pearl Oriental Oil, in Taiwan. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of HK$70 million (approximately 30,000BTC) in bitcoins from his family. The family had paid only HK$13 million (USD1.67 million or 5015BTC) by the deadline last Friday. In the second example, Ryan Piercy, former General Manager of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR), was kidnapped in Costa Rica on 20 January 2015 and held for five weeks chained by the neck to a tree most of the time before being released after a partial ransom payment. The kidnappers had contacted his family and demanded USD500,000 in the untraceable crypto-currency bitcoin. The kidnappers had used the Dark Web to communicate during the kidnapping. The partial ransom payment was made via Western Union transfers to several countries such as Egypt, Ukraine and Romania. Middle men in each country then converted the cash into bitcoins. It is reported that the demands and threats to his family have continued via e-mails and telephone calls. Anonymous donors are now offering USD50,000 in any currency for information leading to the arrest of his kidnappers.
Bitcoin was created in 2008 by an unknown person using the alias “Satoshi Nakamoto”. Bitcoin has quickly become the world’s favourite decentralised digital currency. On 30 October, the price of bitcoin hit a new yearly high of USD333.75. Unlike dollars or euros, bitcoins are not printed, there are no transaction fees, no requirement for a person to provide a real name and no middle men or banks. International transfers are easy and cheap because they are not tied to any country or subject to any regulation, and they are hard to trace. Bitcoin users’ transactions are private and bitcoins are stored in a “virtual wallet” which exists in the cloud or on the user’s computer. Bitcoin has become the currency of choice for people conducting illicit activities such as kidnapping and drug dealing.
12 October A leaked British intelligence report said that the resort near Lamu Island where David Tebbutt was murdered and his wife, Judith, was kidnapped, was under surveillance by the Somali terrorist group, al Shabaab, for several years before the attack. One al Shabaab commander, Kahale Famau Khale, had told colleagues of his wish to kidnap Western tourists from Lamu Island and had identified a Western woman as the best target. The report was issued two days after the attack on 11 September 2011 and sent to South Africa’s State Security Agency. Neither Khale nor any other al Shabaab member linked to the murder and abduction are known to have been detained. Judith Tebbutt was held captive for six months before being released, reportedly after a USD1.1 million ransom was paid.
13 October Police reported that four suspected members of the Somalia based Islamist group, al Shabaab, kidnapped Judy Mutua, a Kenyan teacher working with the NGO Windle Trust, near the Hagadera refugee camp at Dadaab, in the northeast of the country. The gunmen shot at the car in which the victim was travelling and forced the driver to stop. They took command of the vehicle before stopping a few kilometres away from the camp and making the victim get out. They left on foot towards the border with Somalia.
29 October At a trial in Oslo District Court, Norway that ended on 28 October the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), admitted negligence but denied gross negligence. Steve Dennis, a Canadian working for NRC at Dadaab refugee camp, was kidnapped from the camp along with three colleagues by armed men and taken to Somalia in 2012. They were rescued four days later by Somalia militia and Kenyan troops.. The judge’s verdict is expected in November. In a statement to its staff, NRC said: “NRC does not believe the organisation is responsible for the abduction in Dadaab in 2012, nor was grossly negligent. However, (a review) of the incident revealed weaknesses in how information security was managed in Dadaab prior to the incident”.
13 October Local sources said that gunmen had kidnapped up to 300 Tunisian workers in Sabratha, a coastal town between Tripoli and the border with Tunisia. The kidnappers are demanding the release of a local Libyan official arrested in Tunisia earlier in the week.
29 October Malta’s Foreign Ministry reported that Noel Sciberras, a Maltese citizen and General Manager of a Maltese-owned company that runs the only public car park in Tripoli, had been freed by his kidnappers after being held for six weeks. The victim was kidnapped by a gang in Tajoura and was released on 28 October. The Ministry did not say if the demand of USD5 million had been met. A Ministry statement thanked a Maltese diplomat who used to work in Libya and who had negotiated the release of another Maltese man last year, and the Maltese secret service, for their assistance.
13 October Media reports said that a 27 year old man, identified as Mohamad Basma (27), of Asian origin and Mozambican nationality, was kidnapped at around 7:50am in Maputo when four armed men in a vehicle followed his car and intercepted it near the mattress and plastics factory, Unibasma, owned by the victim’s father. Witnesses said they saw the victim being driven away in a car with South African number plates. On the same day, a second victim, said to be the owner of Miraduro bottle store, was kidnapped. According to the News, there was also a kidnapping two weeks ago in Maputo when a businessman in the textile industry, also of Asian origin, was kidnapped and is still believed to be in captivity. On 19 October, the spokesperson of Maputo City Police Command said during his weekly briefing that the PRM are on the trail of the kidnappers but he could not provide details for reasons of secrecy.
27 October A Court sitting in Beira sentenced four members of a kidnapping for ransom gang to between ten and 22 years imprisonment after they were found guilty of kidnapping Luis Ribeiro Junior (14) in February 2014 and Rudy Taveira da Costa (14) in January 2015. The kidnappers received a ransom of 2.5 million meticais (USD62,500) for Luis Junior and 800,000 meticais (USD20,000) for Rudy da Costa. Luis Junior was playing with friends in front of his house when kidnapped and was released a day later after rapid negotiations. Rudy da Costa was kidnapped after one of the kidnappers had set up a Facebook page under a false name to befriend him. He eventually agreed to meet his new friend near the entrance to the new fishing port in Beira. He was also released the following day after his parents paid the ransom.
28 October The Police of the Republic of Mozambique (PRM) said that one person died and two others were injured during an abortive kidnap attempt during the afternoon of 27 October in central Maputo. According to media reports, the kidnappers planned to kidnap Ashu Abdul Aziz (24), son of the owner of SOCOAL, a shop selling electrical goods and sanitary ware, in Maputo. Had the kidnapping been successful, this would have been the second time that Ashu Abdul Aziz had been kidnapped. The first was about two years ago and the family paid a large but undisclosed ransom. The incident occurred at about 4:00pm when four gunmen burst into the shop looking for their intended victim. The gang did not seem to know what their intended victim looked like and grabbed the young manager of the shop who they forced into their car. A security guard tried to stop them but was shot and seriously injured and a shopper was also hit. Police opened fire on the kidnappers’ getaway vehicle and a stray bullet killed a pedestrian. The kidnappers crashed their car at a roundabout in Heroes Square, abandoned their hostage and stole another car before making their escape.
5 October According to a report on PM News, the kidnappers of Chief James Uduji, Chairman of the Comestar Company, have demanded a second payment of N120 million (USD603,000) after the family had paid the initial ransom demand of N100 million (USD502,500). The victim was kidnapped at gunpoint three weeks earlier at Festac in Lagos. On demanding the second payment, the kidnappers told the family they would exchange the victim for another family member so the hostage could arrange the collection of the money for the second payment. Some residents in Festac have relocated with their families to avoid becoming victim of a similar kidnapping.
8 October Alhaji Yusha’u Kebbe, an ex-banker and former Sokoto State governorship candidate for the All Nigeria People’s Party in the 2011 general election, said he had paid a ransom for the release of his 75 year old mother, Hajiya Fatima Mohammed, but preferred not to disclose the amount. The victim was abducted on 1 October at 8:00pm from her home in Kebbe, Sokoto State, by masked gunmen. A good Samaritan who tried to come to her aid was shot dead. She was held for one week before being released at Gadar-Zema, Zamfara State, at around 3:00am. She was kept in a place where there was no water but the kidnappers bought prescription drugs for her after her son texted the names of the drugs.
11 October Six members of a gang suspected of kidnapping Olu Falae, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, were arrested by police in Ondo, Ekiti and Niger States. The victim was kidnapped last month by suspected Fulani herdsmen from his farm in Ilado Village, Akure North, Ondo State, and was released days later after a ransom of N5 million (USD25,125) had been paid. One of the suspects later stated to journalists that the kidnappers were criminals and their action was not motivated by any political or ethnic sentiment. The suspect added that the principal suspect and mastermind of the kidnap did not share the N5 million (USD25,125) with the two accomplices.
12 October Jo Johnson, General Manager of Dolphin Football Club, Port Harcourt, was kidnapped by five armed men at around 7:30am between Aluu and Omuogba while on his way to the airport to fly to watch his club play in Jos, Plateau State. The kidnappers contacted his family and demanded a ransom of N15 million (USD75,400). He was rescued by police from the kidnappers’ hideout in an undisclosed oil location in Rivers State on 15 October. He said he had been tortured, tied up and blindfolded by the kidnappers and his clothes were torn off his body.
14 October A media report claimed that about 110 kidnapping for ransom cases have been recorded to date in 2015. A total figure of N1 billion (USD5,025,125) has been paid in ransoms. Kidnapping gangs are well organised and find the crime a rewarding cash cow. According to experts, this should be blamed on the desperation of families to secure the release of their loved ones.
14 October Two men, named as Humphrey and Kester, and a woman, named as Ruth, were rescued in an operation by a combined team of Edo State Police Command and local hunters. They had been kidnapped by eight men the previous day while travelling along the Benin-Lagos express road when their driver stopped to check a puncture. The victims said they had been made to trek through hills and valleys and slept the night in the bush. The police joined by local hunters pursued the group until the pressure forced the kidnappers to release them. Because they were constantly on the move, the kidnappers had not been able to demand a ransom.
15 October One of the girls who was taken hostage by Boko Haram from Chibok on 14 April 2014, managed to escape from her kidnappers’ camp in the dense Sambisa forest, Borno State, and was found by Fulani herdsmen. The herdsmen took her to an army camp where she narrated her experience. She said that dozens of the victims are still alive but many are pregnant and riddled with disease. She added: “All of us were forced to become Muslims but kept in camps far from each other. You can only see and recognise those in your camp. Any of us who refused being Islamised was either beheaded or shot at point blank range”. She told the authorities that the remaining victims are being held in half a dozen towns located in the border communities along Lake Chad, on the border between Nigeria and Chad.
16 October Dr. Philip Ugbodaga, former chairman, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Edo State Chapter, was kidnapped along with two unnamed doctors in Imo State where they had gone to provide free medical services offered to some communities by a friend of the victims. They had just arrived at the base when they were confronted at gunpoint by the kidnappers and taken away. At the time of the report, the kidnappers had not made contact.
16 October Three members of a medical team were kidnapped by armed men when their vehicle was stopped by gunmen in a SUV at Uburu Ekwe, Isu Local Government Area, Imo State. One of the gunmen who was wearing Civil Defence Regiment uniform ordered the three out of their vehicle and told them to get into the SUV. The victims were taken to the kidnappers den where their legs were chained and their faces covered with black cloth. One of the victims, Mrs. Ann Usman, a nurse from the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin City, was kept after her two colleagues were released. When she asked why she had not been released, she was told that her ransom had not been paid. She was rescued after eight days when a police patrol came across the kidnappers’ den.
18 October Comrade Amba Ndoma Egba, Chairman of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Department of Petroleum Branch (PENGASSAN DPR), said during the 4th Triennial Branch Delegates Conference in Abuja: “Oil and gas workers and their family members have continued to be victims of kidnapping, assault and murder. Just recently, three of our staff were kidnapped in Bayelsa State while carrying out their legitimate duties. This development, if not checked, will hamper the progress of our nation. The National Assembly should also look at the option of passing an anti-kidnapping bill into law. The bill should prescribe serious punishment for any offender”.
20 October The Lithuanian government announced that the “Solarte”, a refrigerated cargo ship flagged in the Comoros Islands, was attacked by armed pirates the previous evening near Port Harcourt. Two Lithuanian and two Ukrainian sailors were kidnapped by the pirates and taken ashore. The vessel was sailing from Port Harcourt to Cotonon, Benin, when attacked. There were 19 sailors on board comprising three Ukrainians and 16 Lithuanians. At the time of the report, the kidnappers had not made contact.
20 October Police arrested two men for kidnapping Jiang Peng Fei (25), a Chinese national who works at the JHX Plywood factory, Akinfosile, Ore town, Ondo State. The two suspects had visited the factory two days before the incident on the pretext of being potential customers but were, in truth, on a surveillance mission. They returned at around 5:00pm and kidnapped the victim from his office on site. The police arrested the kidnappers before they had time to make a ransom demand.
23 October Four gunmen dressed in army uniform stormed Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, and kidnapped the community leader, Chief Geoffrey Agorodo, at the Ogbia water front around 9:00pm. The victim was forced into a waiting speedboat which then sped away while the kidnappers shot continually into the air to frighten off any people who wanted to come to the aid of the community leader.
30 October Madam Ebifieghe Dikoro (100), the mother Wilberforce Agiri, deputy governorship candidate of the All Progressive Party (APC) in the Bayelsa State election, was kidnapped from her home at around 1:00pm when gunmen arrived in two speedboats and took her away into the mangrove forest. During the abduction, the gunmen fired sporadically into the air to discourage anyone from coming to the victim’s aid. At the time of the report, there had been no known ransom demand.
8 October According to a leaked document, Italy’s intelligence agency, AISE, helped concoct a story about the rescue of Bruno Pelizzari, an Italian, and Debbie Calitz, a South African, who were kidnapped by Somali pirates in 2010 and released in 2012, to hide a ransom payment. The document, marked “secret”, states that AISE paid a ransom of USD525,000. In order to conceal the payment, AISE, SNSA (Somalia’s national security agency) and the hostages agreed to inform the media and public that the release of the hostages was the result of a successful rescue operation by the Somali security forces.
26 October Around 100 rebel fighters captured 30 members of the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Eighteen Bangladeshi peacekeepers were later released but 12 South Sudanese working for UNMISS were still being held.