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Lesson 3-4 Escape or Surrender

During the initial moment of capture, you must make an instant decision—escape or surrender. Even though it is the most dangerous time of a hostage ordeal, you must remain calm. Do not make any sudden movement that may rattle an already anxious gunman. Abductors are tense; adrenaline is flowing. Terrorists themselves feel vulnerable until they are convinced they have established firm control over their hostages. Unintentional violence can be committed with the slightest provocation. For example, do not make eye contact with the captors initially. Be polite and cooperate. You may need to reassure your abductors that you are not trying to escape by controlling your emotions, following instructions, and avoiding physical resistance.

Terrorists meticulously plan to capture hostages. Initiative, time, location, and circumstances of the capture usually favor the captors, not hostages. However, the best opportunity to escape is normally during the confusion of the takeover while you are still in a relatively public place. During this period the hostage takers are focused on establishing control and may leave openings for escape. If you decide in advance to try to escape, try to plan and practice doing so. Mental alertness improves the chances of escape. While waiting for an opportunity to escape, continue passive information collection on:

  • Appearance, accents, rank structure, equipment, and routines of the terrorists.
  • Strengths and weaknesses of the facility and its personnel.
  • Conditions and surrounding area that could impact an escape attempt.
  • Items within the detention area that can be used to support an escape effort.

Escape from detention by terrorists is risky but may become necessary if conditions deteriorate to the point that the risks associated with escape are less than the risks of remaining captive. These risks would include the credible threat of torture and death at the hands of the terrorists. Escape attempts should be made only after careful consideration of the risk of violence, chance of success, and possible detrimental effects on hostages remaining behind.

If you eliminate escape as an option, avoid physical resistance. Assure your captors of your intention to cooperate fully.

Intimidation and Control

Remember, hostage-takers usually want you alive! They may use drugs, blindfolds, or gags when they abduct you, but try not to be alarmed or resist unduly. If you struggle, hostage-takers may resort to more severe measures of restraint. Hostage-takers use blindfolds or hoods to keep you from knowing where you are being taken, as well as to prevent you from identifying them later. You should not attempt to remove a blindfold or hood; if you see, your abductors they may kill you. Likewise, you should not attempt to remove an abductor’s mask or hood if they are wearing one.

Hostage-takers may also drug their victims, usually at the beginning of an operation, to make the victim sleep and keep him pacified. This experience should not be alarming. At this stage, your life is almost as important to the hostage-taker as it is to you. Drugs used to put you to sleep do not have lasting side effects. If hostage-takers should use drugs such as heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), or sleeping pills, you can typically recover from this quicker than you can from physical abuse. Hostage-takers may use “truth-serum” drugs, but these drugs are typically inefficient, and their results are similar to the consumption of too much alcohol.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015