A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security


Held by the Taliban - An interview with David Rhodes

This MSNBC video interview with David Rhodes on his kidnapping by the Taliban is a little light but worth watching if you have the bandwidth. Rhodes reveals that his Taliban captors 'googled' him and his family members in their quest for information.

Update on kidnapped Greek aid worker

Kalash children

A 12 member jirga left Chitral yesterday for Afghanistan’s Nuristan province in an effort to secure the safe release of kidnapped aid worker Athanasios Lerounis. Lerounis was kidnapped on 8 September from his room in the Bumboret Valley.

According to the police they have “... credible reports that the Greek national has been sifted to Nuristan.” A local shepherd is reported to have witnessed a group of men taking a foreigner to a location in Afghanistan near the AfPak border. In addition police have arrested a Nuristani man suspected of being involved in the case. He is a close relative of the guide who is suspected of having helped the kidnappers move Lerounis to Nuristan.

This incident highlights the strengths and weaknesses of acceptance as an NGO security strategy. Lerounis’s acceptance by the local community did not prevent the murder of his police guard. Nor did it protect him from being kidnapped by those elements, criminal or Taliban, who live outside local societal norms. Community acceptance may however prove crucial during efforts to secure Lerounis’s safe release. Kalash community members have been actively working to secure his release. Besides the formation of the jirga mentioned above community members have assisted police in their investigations and are bringing pressure on the government to work quickly and effectively in regaining Lerounis’s freedom.

[Photo credit: Simon Taylor]

Greek aid worker kidnapped in Pakistan

Kalash woman and child
Kalash woman and child-- courtesy Gul Hamaad Farooqi

Unidentified gunmen kidnapped a Greek national from his room in the Bumboret Valley, Chitral, after killing one of his guards and injuring another early yesterday morning. The man was sleeping in his room inside the Kalash House museum when up to twenty armed men broke in and forced him to accompany them at gunpoint. The assailants also seized a local Kalash teacher, identified as Ajmeer Kalash, but quickly abandoned him after they tied him to a pillar.

The Greek man, identified in some reports as Athunasius, had been living and working in the Bumboret Valley since 1995. He was supervising the construction of the Kalash House museum and primary school where he also volunteered as a teacher. The project is funded by small Greek NGO and is intended to help preserve and promote the unique Kalash culture. During his time in the valley Athunasius also helped establish two primary schools and three maternity centres.

Note: The local media does not seem to be any better at handling Greek names than I am. Local reports have reported the victim as being Athanasee Laironaise, Lerunis Athuanisis, or simply Athunasius.

While Chitral is generally considered peaceful, it does border the conflict-plagued Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. An Afghan government adviser visiting the region was kidnapped last year. Two years ago unidentified gunmen murdered a Spanish national and his Pakistani servant at their residence in the Bumboret Valley.

Bumboret Museum
The museum in Bumboret

Aid workers released in Somalia and Chad

Some good news for a change:

Six foreigners kidnapped in Somalia in November of last year have been released according to this AlertNet report. Four were aid workers with Action Contre La Faim (ACF) while the other two were the Kenyan pilots who had flown them in to Somalia.

Meanwhile MSF indicates that one of its staff members, missing since 4 August, returned safely last Friday. Unfortunately the international staff member is still being held by an unidentified armed group.

Somali gunmen kidnap three aid workers in Kenya

Three aid workers — an American, a Pakistani, and a Mozambican — were kidnapped by armed men in Kenya’s border town of Mandera on Friday night. The gunmen reportedly seized the trio from an NGO run guest house where they were watching television with seven other expatriates. The victims were forced into a Land Cruiser and driven across the border into Somalia.

A ‘security guard’ cum ‘private tour guide’ was seriously injured during the incident.

Al Shabaab, the anti-government Islamic fundamentalist group that is holding two kidnapped French security officials, denied involvement in the incident calling it a “cowardly act” before pointing the finger at rival fundamentalist group Hizbul Islam. Al Shabaab’s promise to assist in locating the kidnapped aid workers is far from reassuring, however. It seems that Hizbul Islam, the original kidnappers of the French security officials, turned the pair over to Al Shabaab in order ‘to avert bloodshed’. In turn Al Shabaab has announced that they will try the Frenchmen under Shariah.

Al Shabaab ‘assistance’ in locating the kidnapped aid workers might best be avoided.

Deminers released, health workers still held

The sixteen humanitarian deminers kidnapped in Afghanistan on Saturday have been released. Apparently tribal local tribal elders were able to negotiate the release of the team.

Two Afghan staff from the Netherlands based HealthNet TPO (HNI) who were also kidnapped on Saturday in nearby Khost province remain unaccounted for.

Sixteen humanitarian deminers kidnapped in Afghanistan

Sixteen humanitarian deminers from the Mine Detection and Dog Centre in Afghanistan were seized by unidentified gunmen on Saturday, 5 July. The group was taken while travelling along the Logar to Gardez road. So far, there have been no claims of responsibility.

The Logar to Gardez road is considered unsafe for travel by many NGOs, who travel the route only when essential and in unmarked vehicles. Last August
five IRC staff were killed in an ambush on the same road.

View Logar-Gardez Road in a larger map

Gunmen kidnap 16 Afghan UN demining workers-police

Two aid workers kidnapped in Darfur

Two aid workers with the aid group Goal, were kidnapped in Sudan's western Darfur region on 3 July 2009. Goal chief John O'Shea identified the two women as Sharon Commins (32), from Clontarf, Ireland and Hilda Kawuki (40) from Uganda.

The pair were seized by armed men from their compound in the northern Darfur town of Kutum shortly after dark. Their Sudanese guard was also taken during the incident but he was later released.

The incident followed a growing trend in Darfur kidnappings; foreign aid workers being seized from their compounds shortly after dark by well prepared teams of armed men. Compound walls and unarmed guards can do very little to deter this type of attack.

More: Irish aid worker kidnapped in Darfur

Four UN staff kidnapped in Somalia

Update - Al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Muktar Robow Mansoor is claiming that all four kidnapped staff have been released and are “... with me with their luggage and we are going to hand over the U.N. officers soon. They are free now.”

On 16 March gunmen kidnapped four UN aid workers in Wajid, Somalia. The UN staffers were preparing to fly from Wajid airport when they were seized. The presence of armed escorts did not deter the kidnappers. No shots were fired.

The kidnapped staff included one Azerbaijani and one Ghanian, both with UNDP, one French staff member of WFP, and a Somali from the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS).

Kidnappings of aid workers and journalists are common in Somalia. Although many victims are released unharmed after the payment of ransom the process can drag on for months. A Canadian journalist and an Australian photographer abducted last August are still being held. Four aid workers with Action Contre la Faim and two Kenyan pilots have been held since November.

Foreign aid workers travelling to Somalia should ensure their financial affairs are in order and their families understand their wishes in the event they are kidnapped.

Somalia: Unknown Gunmen Kidnap UN Aid Workers
hawiye gunmen kidnap UN aid workers

Five aid workers kidnapped in Darfur

Three international aid workers with Medecins Sans Frontieres Belgium were kidnapped on Wednesday from their offices in Darfur, Sudan according to an MSF statement. MSF identifies the trio as a Canadian nurse, an Italian doctor and a French coordinator. Two Sudanese staff were also seized but were quickly released.

The kidnapping took place in Serif Umra in north Darfur, where MSF Belgium runs a health clinic and dispensary.

While MSF France and MSF Netherlands were among the thirteen aid groups expelled from Darfur last week MSF Belgium was not. The Swiss and Spanish branches of MSF also remain in Darfur.

More: International aid workers kidnapped in Darfur
Foreign Aid Workers Kidnapped In Darfur

Note: I’m on the road right now so can’t really give this incident the attention it deserves. Check out the sidebar for timely news and opinion on Darfur.

Update: The three kidnapped MSF staff have been identified as Laura Archer, Mauro D'Ascanio and Raphael Meonier.

Links for 2/19/2009

UN on alert ahead of Beshir arrest warrant decision - Unfortunate quote, “UNAMID spokesman Noureddine Mezni was unapologetic about the contingency planning.” Hmmm... need we ever be apologetic about contingency planning?

Italian nuns freed after kidnap by Somalis - Some good news for a change.

Security forces raid office, intimidate staff of NGO that reports on human rights abuses - Thai military forces NGO staff to reveal confidential information on victims of human rights abuses.

Sri Lanka to probe NGO activities - Having been directly involved in a previous Sri Lankan government inquiry into NGO activities I think the term ‘witch hunt’ is entirely appropriate.

German aid worker, parents abducted in Yemen

Bani Thabyan tribesmen kidnapped a German aid worker and her parents in southern Yemen on Monday. The aid worker and her visiting mother and father were seized by the tribesmen in Dhamar province, 105 kilometres south of the capital, San'a according to security officials. The kidnappers are demanding the release of imprisoned fellow tribesman.

German and Yemeni officials have yet to release the identity of the captives.

Kidnappings of this type are fairly common in Yemen. In the majority of cases, the hostages are freed unharmed after negotiations.

Map of Dhamar

One released, another taken

Dany Egreteau, the French aid worker who has kidnapped on 3 November in Kabul has apparently been released unharmed.

Unfortunately this good news is tempered by the apparent abduction of Jestina Mukoko, the Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project. Jestina was forced from her home in Harare by armed men in civilian clothing at 5 AM on 3 November. The Zimbabwe Peace Project local intelligence and police authorities are involved in the abduction.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project works to document violence and torture across Zimbabwe through a network of Peace Monitors.



Reasons to be Thankful

Today is the day that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. Going through my email and news feeds I’ve been thinking of things to be thankful for.

First and foremost for me is that Bev did not make it as far as Mumbai on her break from the dangers of Afghanistan. Fortunately for her the attacks began before she could leave Delhi.

Afghanistan hasn’t been quiet either of course. A suicide bombing near the American embassy in Kabul disrupted Thanksgiving Day activities, killing at least four people.

Aid Worker Daily points to another reason to be thankful. I could have been born in eastern Congo rather than western Canada. Condition: Critical highlights the struggles of those living in war torn Congo.

Most of all this morning I am thankful that I am not Dany Egreteau the French aid worker kidnapped in Kabul on 3 November. Warning: The video contains graphic and disturbing images.

Have courage brother. Rest assured that there are many working for your safe return.

Somali Gunmen Kidnap Aid Workers on Airstrip

Somali gunmen have kidnapped a group of aid workers from an airstrip in central Somalia.

French Aid Worker Kidnapped in Kabul

The details are still sketchy but it appears that a French aid worker has been kidnapped in Kabul this morning. According to various sources he was taken while walking in Karta Parwan, a suburb of Kabul. An Afghan, possibly with the National Directorate of Security, was shot when he tried to intervene.

More: Western aid worker kidnapped in Kabul, Afghan shot dead

Two French Aid Workers Kidnapped in Afghanistan

Two French aid workers from Action Against Hunger (ACF) were kidnapped in Afghanistan on Friday. The pair were taken at 1 AM as they slept in their ACF guest house in Nili, Day Kundi Province. The kidnappers reportedly tied up the local guards before fleeing with thier two victims.

According to ACF they have knowledge that the two staff members are still alive.

Kidnapping in Afghanistan: Two ACF Humanitarian Aid Workers Abducted
Two French aid workers kidnapped in Afghanistan

Gunmen Seize Aid Workers in Somalia (update 2)

Gunmen have reportedly seized aid worker Mohamoud Abdi Adan while he was travelling to Mogadishu from Merka. Mohamoud is a local co-ordinator for Water for Life.

Reuters is reporting that a female staff member was taken in the same incident.

Somali gunmen kidnap workers with Italian charity

Update 2 July - Reports now suggest that at least four Water for Life staff may have been kidnapped. See Aid Worker Killed, at Least 4 Kidnapped Near Somali Capital for more info.

Aid Worker Killed in Somalia

On 30 June, unidentified gunmen kidnapped and later killed Siyad Orow, a Somali aid worker in Mogadishu. Siyad Orow was the head of ASAL, a local implementing partner for WFP.

Gunmen kill aid worker in Mogadishu: officials

Two UN Mine Action Program Staff Abducted/Released in Somalia

Somali gunmen seized then quickly released two Scandinavian UN Mine Action Program staff over the weekend. The gunmen kidnapped the pair and a local IMC translator when they stormed the IMC compound in Hudur, Somalia.

Noefolk Nelson and Ulf Felink were released on Saturday hours after they taken. A Somali translator was also released.

Four foreign aid workers, two Italians, a Kenyan and a Briton, abducted in April and May, are still being held by gunmen in Somalia.

U.N. says Somali gunmen release two of its workers
Abducted Scandinavian UN workers released by Somali gunmen (Roundup)

Somali gunmen kidnap senior UN aid worker

On 21 June Somali gunmen reportedly seized the head of the UNHCR office in Mogadishu, Somalia. Ten men raided the house of Hassan Mohamed Ali in Elasha, south of the capital on Saturday, according to witnesses.

Reuters Africa
Yahoo News

Armed Men Abduct Aid Worker in Somalia

According to Mareeg Online a local representative of CARE International in Somalia was kidnapped in Galguduud Region on Saturday night. According to a member of the Ceel Dheer administration heavily armed men were seen taking the CARE staff member away.

Mareeg online reports that the staff member had received telephone threats prior to the incident.

Somalia: Unidentified men abduct aid worker in central Somalia

Canadian Aid Worker Kidnapped in Haiti Released

Medecins du Monde Aid Worker Kidnapped in Haiti

A Canadian aid worker with Medecins du Monde was kidnapped on 21 May from the Tomasin neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti has a well established kidnapping industry. At least 139 people have been kidnapped this year. Most kidnappings occur in the capital.

Three Aid Workers Kidnapped in Somalia

Three aid workers from Cooperazione Italiana Nord Sud were kidnapped by gunmen on 21 May in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia. Two Italians, one male and one female, and a male Somali colleague were kidnapped early in the morning in the village of Awdhegle.

Two Italians among three aid workers kidnapped in Somalia: officials
Somali gunmen kidnap two Italian aid workers-officials
Witness: Somali gunmen seize 2 Italian aid workers

Kidnapped Aid Workers Released in Pakistan

On 17 May, Taliban fighters operating in Mohmand Agency, Pakistan, released four employees of two NGOs. The four were kidnapped by the Taliban on 23 April.

The aid workers were reportedly released after a local Peace Jirga facilitated talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban.

Kidnapped UN Workers Released in Pakistani Raid

KinderBerg Afghanistan Suspends Operations After Staff Kidnapped

German KinderBerg has reportedly suspended operations for five days after the apparent kidnapping of two staff members near Charikar the capital of Parwan province. The area had previously been considered relatively safe.

Appropriate Response to NGO Kidnappings and Abduction

Image of a man in a blindfold

In the past most NGO kidnappings were conducted by criminal groups seeking economic gain. However in at least the past five years we have seen a marked increase in the number of NGOs who have been kidnapped for political reasons. Confusing the issue are indications that some recent kidnappings may have been 'speculative' in nature. That is to say they were carried out by groups that were primarily criminal in nature but with the intent to sell the victim to the highest bidder.

"Experienced Advice Crucial in Response to Kidnappings" outlines the nature of the kidnapping threat and the steps NGOs should take to prepare themselves. Kidnap insurance, crisis management plans, family support, and media liaison plans are all covered in an accessible manner. If you are an NGO security officer the article might be useful for opening a discussion with senior staff. If you are a programme person you should read it and raise any questions you might have with your security officer.

The article was authored by Bob Macpherson, former director of the CARE International Safety and Security Unit, Christine Persaud, and Norman Sheehan. Between them they have a wealth of experience dealing with NGO security issues.

Kidnapped Aid Workers Reportedly Killed in Afghanistan

Aid workers Cyd Mizell and Muhammad Hadi have apparently been killed in Afghanistan according to this statement by Asian Rural Life Development Foundation. The pair had been kidnapped by armed men in Kandahar while they travelled to work in the morning.

Our prayers are with the families and friends of Hadi and Cyd.

Mexico's kidnapping business

According to AlJazeera kidnappings are big business in Mexico with an average of 900 kidnappings per day last year.

Watching the video reminded me of a kidnapping conference I attended a couple of years ago. Among the participants was Rachel Briggs, the author of "The Kidnapping Business". Her publication is well worth reading even without the extensive references to the NGO community.

To paraphrase her report a kidnapping business hotspot country can be identified by the following characteristics:

1. The presence of networked groups that can support the crime. Tribal groups, fringe political groups, religious groups, and pure criminal groups are the major classifications and they are by no means mutually exclusive.

2. Political or economic transition that results in ineffective policing, corrupt judiciary, or weak laws but avoids outright conflict which would likely limit the number potential victims.

3. A local middle class, significant numbers of expatriate businessmen, or I would argue the presence of large numbers of aid worker.

4. Areas where potential victims are poorly protected and do not manage risk well.

Does the country you work in have some or all of these characteristics? Does your organization have a kidnap and ransom policy? Do you know what it is? Do you know what personal security measures to take to reduce your risk? Do you actually use them?

Aid Worker Kidnapped in Solmalia Freed

According to this AlertNet report the GAA aid worker who was kidnapped yesterday in Somalia was freed by security forces.

Aid Worker Kidnapped in Somalia

According to his colleagues a German aid worker of German Agro Action (Deutsche Welthungerhilfe) was kidnapped by armed gunmen in Era Gabo, Somaliland. Daniel Bronkal was apparently taken during an ambush on the GAA vehicle. The driver, who sustained injuries during the attack, and a fellow aid worker avoided capture in the confusion.

Although it the motivation for the kidnapping is not clear at this point the area has experienced a spate of criminal kidnappings for ransom. In January two MSF Spain staff were released by their kidnappers after being held for a week.

more from AlertNet

Terrorism, Economic, and Privacy Risk Maps

I love maps. Good maps can be a security analyst's best friend. A good map can summarize an entire analytical report.

A recent post on sources and methods led me to Aon Corporation's Terrorism Threat Map. Risk levels, regions of special risk, religious extremist groups, political extremism, separatist movements, and kidnap risk are all covered in a simple and easy to grasp format. The legends are chock full of information as well. One even contains a concise explanation of the terrorism risk assessment process.

Terrorism Threat Map

Aon's 2008 Political and Economic Risk Map is another that deserves a place on your office wall. Not only does it illustrate the usual war, terrorism, and civil disturbance risks but it also highlights exposure to the current global credit crisis. You can get a copy here but unfortunately you'll have to fill in one of those annoying online forms.

Political & Economic Risk Map 2008

Privacy International's map of Surveillance Societies Around the World isn't nearly as professional as the ones above but it is still effective at pointing out that the world's nosiest governments aren't necessarily where you might think. Although I think Privacy International tends to be somewhat alarmist my biggest problem with their latest report is that they still leave large portions of the world uncovered. Surely Africa, the Middle east, and South Asia deserve greater attention?

Map of Surveillance Societies arounf the World

For extra analytical fun try overlaying the maps. How does surveillance intensity compare to terrorism risk? Kidnap risk?

Family Statement Regarding Cyd Mizell, Aid Worker Held in Afghanistan

Cyd Mizell's father asks for his daughters safe return in this video statement.

If your connection is too slow for the video you can read the text of the statement below.

SEATTLE, Feb. 3 /CNW/ -- The family of Cyd Mizell, an American aid worker currently being held in Afghanistan, today released the following statementfrom her father, George Mizell: "I am Cydney's father. My family and I want to thank all those who have shown their deep concern for the safety and well being of my daughter, Cydney Mizell, and Muhammad Hadi. I am indebted to the Afghan people for their support of Cydney and Muhammad. "My family and I love Cyd very much. I'm confused why my daughter would be taken because she's a gentle, caring and respectful person. "When we talk to Cyd, she tells us about the friends she's made and the kindness that's been shown to her and her desire to help them. "To those people who are holding our daughter, please let Cyd come home. Each day that passes without knowing about Cyd is difficult for our family andfriends. "We ask that you work with us so Cyd can come home. Cyd knows how to contact us and her co-workers. All of us are waiting to hear from you."

For further information: Bill Curry, spokesman for the Mizell family, +1-206-697-3684 Web Site: http://www.onlinefilefolder.com

Afghan Security Tight After American Kidnapped

Cyd Mizell, an aid worker with the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation, and her driver, Abdul Hadi, were reportedly kidnapped in Kandahar on 26 January. This short AP video has a plea from her organization for her quick release.

According to relief web hundreds of Afghan women in Kandahar demonstrated to protest the kidnapping and demand her safe release.

Colombian Hostages Talk of Captivity

Two Colombian hostages, freed by the FARC after six years in captivity, describe what it was like to be a hostage. For a more in-depth interview from a former kidnap victim check out "Being Buried Alive - Surviving a Kidnapping".

Being Buried Alive - Surviving a Kidnapping

In this video from the Frontline Club BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston describes what it was like to be kidnapped and how he dealt with 114 days in captivity. Well worth watching if you or a family member have even a small chance of being kidnapped.

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