Earlier this week, a Frenchman named Marc Aubrière escaped from his kidnappers, who were members of an extremist Islamist group. He then miraculously “appeared on the streets of Mogadishu,” according to The New York Times. He sneaked past sleeping guards, walking barefoot so he would not wake them, and then managed to get free, following the example of Times reporter David Rohde. Earlier this summer , Rohde escaped from his his kidnappers, members of the Taliban who had held him in a mountainous area of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nevertheless, rumors circulated about both of those incidents -- there's been speculation as to whether or not the kidnappers were in fact paid a ransom for the release of the men, and that stories about the escapes of Aubrière and Rohde were concocted to cover up the truth.
There seems to be no real evidence that a ransom was paid for either of the two men, but it is also not surprising that people have wondered about the escapes. Negotiating with terrorists is, of course, a bad idea – or at least that is the conventional wisdom – and it remains a highly controversial move. But in fact, it is done all the time, such as when the Italians tried -- and succeeded -- in gaining the freedom of Il Manifesto journalist Giuliana Sgrena from the clutches of the Taliban in 2005. (Negotiating with enemies worked more recently when Bill Clinton went to North Korea and helped secure the release of two American journalists.)
So, if one is kidnapped by terrorists, should one run away or stay? And should a government or an institution such as The New York Times, in the case of the Rohde kidnapping, enter into negotiations with the terrorists? In the macabre world of kidnapping science, there are no clear-cut answers, only difficult questions. Even the experts in the field get things wrong, or become victims of the wave of violence, as shown by the fact that Felix Batista, an American who ran kidnapping workshops to help people learn how not to get abducted, was himself seized in Mexico last December. Lawmakers in his home-state of Florida are now trying to sort out the best way to help him. There seems to be no takeaway or lessons learned from these chilling accounts for either individuals who face the predicament or the governments that become involved, except that one should stay flexible whatever the situation is -- and be prepared to run.