Kidnapping for ransom is today one of the most significant sources of funding for terrorist activity. A recent investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, the vast majority of which has been paid out by European governments who often evade blame by using intermediaries and brokers.
The recent high-profile and very public hostage executions by IS in northern Iraq and Syria has brought the issue of ransom policy to the fore amongst Western governments. A clear disparity has emerged between several European countries prepared to exchange money for hostages, while publicly denying that they do, and others, including the United Kingdom and America, staunchly refusing to engage in such practices, arguing that doing so only encourages further kidnappings.
Is paying ransoms ever acceptable? Are prisoner exchanges a better alternative? Just how lucrative is the kidnapping industry and are governments doing enough to discourage and deter the practice? We are delighted to welcome Tom Keatinge, Director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at RUSI, to explore these themes with us as part of our In Conversation With series. Tom spent 20 years working in the banking and finance industry and has written extensively on the relationship between financial crime and UK and international security.
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