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Lesson 3-2 The Hostage-Takers

The following paragraphs address broad categories of hostagetakers—the ones that are the norm. The lines between the categories may blur or overlap, and the hostage-taker may move from one category to another based on a goal. Multiple subsets may also exist within each category.

Political Extremist

Most hostage-takers are political extremists. They typically operate within a military-type structure. Their operations are usually well planned. They typically resist appeals based on morals, decency or fear for their own safety. They are often prepared to die for their cause.

Statistically, leaders of political extremist groups are single, urban, bright, and dedicated to their cause. They are often college graduates with professional backgrounds. They often come from upper or upper middle class families whose parents are politically active but not violent. They tend to be abnormally idealistic and inflexible.

Fleeing Criminal

Fleeing criminals take hostages on impulse, typically to avoid immediate apprehension and to have a bargaining chip for escape. Authorities must handle a fleeing criminal with caution. If he feels a sudden loss of power, it can create agitation, despair, or panic. With these emotions at the forefront, he also may impulsively kill a hostage. Therefore, time and patience in dealing with the hostage-taker is critical. The fleeing criminal will often settle for much less than originally demanded if he perceives that he is slowly losing power, control of the situation, or facing death. Many times, he will surrender if allowed to give up with dignity.

Wronged Person

A hostage-taker who feels he is a wronged person is motivated by personal revenge. He seeks to notify society of the defects in the system or the establishment. He attempts to effect justice in order

to right a wrong or to publicize what he feels is an injustice. The hostage may represent the “system” to the hostage-taker; if so, the hostage could be in increased danger. This type of hostagetaker is convinced that he is absolutely right in his behavior. Often, gentle persuasion is required to convince him that he needs to end the situation and release the hostage.

Religious Extremist

Dealing with hostage-takers who are religious extremists requires time, patience, and sensitivity. Religious extremists share a common, unshakable belief in the righteousness of their cause. They may perceive that their source of power comes from their god or the leaders of their cult or group. They may see themselves as superior to others simply because of their beliefs. Individuals who join cults or radical religious groups often lack personal confidence and join these types of organizations to bolster their self-esteem.

Religious extremists may feel that they must succeed or die for their faith. Some religious cults and groups believe that to die at the hand of the nonbeliever is the holiest achievement possible. This way of thinking greatly increases the threat to the hostage. The hostage may also be seen as a “sacrificial lamb,” one who must die for the sins of others.

Mentally Disturbed

A hostage-taker who is mentally disturbed is not normally associated with an organized terrorist group. However, this type of hostage-taker conducts over half of the hostage-taking incidents. Usually, the mentally disturbed hostage-taker acts alone. Authorities may have difficulty establishing and maintaining a rapport with the mentally disturbed hostage-taker. If challenged or threatened by

authorities, the mentally disturbed hostage-taker may easily accept the murder of a hostage, his own personal suicide or both.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015