Barricade training gat FT. Bragg

Hostage-Taking and Kidnapping

Despite the high-profile nature of the terrorist hostage taking events, especially the ones that involve mass seizures of hostages, at present they seem to be one of the understudied types of terrorism. Most studies on hostage taking date back to the 1970s and 1980s, reflecting the surge of such attacks at that time, are of practical, rather than academic, nature and focus primarily on the negotiation process to solve hostage crises, often in non-terrorist context. The more recent trends and changes in patterns of terrorist hostage taking have not yet received adequate attention in literature. This is despite the fact that politically (ideologically, religiously) motivated hostage-taking remains one of the most challenging types of terrorist activity and can still make a significant share of terrorist incidents, both at the national and the international levels.  Photo: 2011 A team member breaches the front door of a home, with a battering ram, during barricade subject/hostage training on Fort Bragg. The SRT plays a major role in Fort Bragg's anti-terrorism effort and acts as the post's first line of defense in crisis and high-risk situations.  Photographer Amber Avalona.

Three Main Types of Hostage Incidents

By mode of action, there are three main types of hostage incidents:

  1. barricade hostage taking;
  2. sky/land/sea hijacking incidents and
  3. kidnapping

In this article, the term ‘hostage taking’ is only applied to categories (a) and (b) – barricade and hijacking hostage situations – and is used to describe events in which one or more persons hold one or more other persons by force in a location known to the authorities. Hostage taking is distinct from kidnapping (situations when the location of the seized victims and perpetrators is unknown).

Kidnapping Most Prevalent 

Kidnapping is the most widespread tactic of forcibly holding people hostage. According to the data generated from the Global Terrorism Database (GTB), in a period from 1970 to 2010, kidnappings comprised over three fourths (81 per cent) of all incidents involving hostages, as compared to 12 per cent for barricade hostage incidents and 7 per cent for hijacks (see Fig. 1.).   However, most of the kidnapping incidents are not politically motivated and are conducted for ransom and not for political goals. This applies both to most kidnappings by organized crime groups, including, for instance, drug-cartels, and even to kidnappings by some of the politico-military actors (of about 750 hostages held by Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2008, only 40 were ‘political hostages’ and the rest had been kidnapped for ransom).[1]

Barricade Hostage and Hostage During Hijack

In contrast, the majority of barricade hostage incidents and hostage-taking during hijack operations are politically motivated terrorist acts. The focus of this article is on hostage taking and not on the kidnapping situations (see separate article on Kidnapping), with particular attention to barricade hostage taking incidents.

Fig. 1. Hostage incidents by type, % (1970–2010)

Hostage Incidents by Type 1970-2010

Data source: Global Terrorism Database;[2] accessed 07.01.2012.



[1] The Global Terrorism Database is hosted by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and the Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. It contains information on over 98000 incidents from 1970 to 2010. Its main advantage is that it is the largest terrorism dataset that, unlike other datasets, includes information on both domestic and international terrorist incidents around the world on a global scale; <>.

[2] For more detail, see Stepanova E., “One-sided violence against civilians in armed conflicts,” in SIPRI Yearbook 2009: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 64–65.

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