Islamist extremist groups found their kidnapping operations stifled by local pressures in 2017. There were only four incidents of foreigners kidnapped by these groups last year, compared with 20 in 2016, according to the latest Control Risks report.
This downward trend was not the result of a strategic shift in ideology ordered by the senior ranks of global Islamist extremist movements. Instead, it was entirely driven by local pressures on individual affiliate groups, said the report.
The principal example of this trend is the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The group was responsible for 70% of Islamist extremist kidnaps of foreigners in 2016. However, the group’s holding of a large number of victims and its participation in a five-month-long siege in Marawi in 2017 are likely to have overstretched its resources and led to a lull in kidnaps.
Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS)’s previous demonstrations of brutality against foreign kidnap victims in Syria likely deterred foreigners from entering IS-held areas in 2017, shrinking the group’s pool of potential targets. It was also diverted by significant military operations against its territory. Other groups around the globe were similarly affected by local issues.
Control Risks projected, however, that the downward trend will not last as local pressures on such groups have a “push and pull” effect on the kidnapping threat. ASG and the IS are likely to have to return to kidnapping to bolster their dwindling finances and public image. It noted that competition between regional affiliates of IS and al-Qaida, as well as local political pressures, will see groups experienced in kidnapping return to the tactic to raise their profiles.
Maritime kidnapping threat
The second out of three kidnapping trends identified by Control Risks is that maritime kidnapping continues to be in flux. While the ASG offshore kidnap threat – a significant development in the 2016 kidnapping environment – all but disappeared from the Sulu Sea while the group focused its operations and resources elsewhere, Somali piracy made a brief comeback around the Horn of Africa, a remind that the underlying drivers of the crime still exist and will manifest periodically. while the Gulf of Guinea remained the global hotspot for offshore kidnapping.
New risk areas emerge in African countries
In certain African countries, new risk areas emerged away from long-established high-threat zones, proving again that the threat on the continent warrants close monitoring. The Niger Delta states have long been the epicentre of the kidnapping threat in Nigeria, but in 2017 Kaduna became the second worst-affected state. A similar trend emerged in Libya, as several abductions of foreigners in the south-west demonstrated an expansion of the threat from urban centres in the north, where kidnaps and detentions involving commercial and NGO employees are typically recorded. In Mali, the frequency and number of kidnaps in central and south-western states increased, though kidnaps are traditionally most often recorded in the northern half of the country.
For more on 2017 kidnapping trends, refer to the Control Risks report here.