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Lesson 11 Releases and Rescue Attempts

Historically, the more time that passes, the better chance a hostage has of being released or rescued. The majority of hostage taking incidents are resolved by negotiated releases not rescue attempts. While the passage of time without rescue or release can be depressing, it is actually to your advantage. Time can produce a positive or negative bond between you and your abductors. If the hostage-taker does not abuse you, hours spent together will most likely build rapport, produce positive results, and increase your chances of survival. However, you must also look ahead and plan for your release or rescue. You must also remember that if the hostage-takers’ demands are not met, they may kill hostages. You must prepare yourself for the potential response from authorities if a hostage is killed. Typically, negotiations cease, and rescue forces move in to rescue hostages.


The moment of imminent release, like the moment of capture, is very dangerous. The hostage-takers, as well as the hostages, are likely to feel threatened and even panic. The hostage-takers will be extremely nervous during any release phase, especially if negotiations are drawn out. The terrorists will be anxious to evade capture and punishment, and they will fear being double-crossed by the authorities. You need to pay close attention to the instructions the hostage-takers give you when the release takes place: do not panic and do not run because the hostage-takers may shoot you.

Rescue Attempts

During the rescue attempt, both the hostage and the rescue force are in extreme danger. Most hostages who die are killed during rescue attempts. You must be especially alert, cautious, and obedient to instructions if an attempt is imminent or is occurring. If possible, position yourself in the safest area, such as under desks, behind chairs, or behind any large object that provides protection. You should avoid being near doors, windows, or open areas. If the doors fly open followed by rescue forces, drop to the floor immediately, lie as flat as possible, do not move, do not say anything, do not attempt to pick up a weapon or help the rescuers.

Rescue forces have no idea whether you are friend or foe. Any movement you make could result in injury or death to you or your fellow hostages. It could also distract members of the rescue force, which, in turn, could lead to injuries or deaths among the rescuers. During a rescue operation at Entebbe, Uganda, a woman hostage threw her hands up in a natural gesture of joy as the rescue forces came bursting in. Unfortunately, the rescue forces shot her. Once the rescue forces are in control, you might be handled roughly and ordered up against the wall. You will probably be handcuffed, searched, and possibly gagged and/or blindfolded until everyone is positively identified.

After the Release

Once you are safely in the hands of the authorities, remember to cooperate fully with them, especially if others are still being held. As soon as you can, write down everything you can remember: guard location, weapons and explosives description and placement, and any other information that might help rescue forces.

After your release, you must prepare yourself for the aftermath. The news media will want an interview immediately, and you will be in no condition to provide intelligent, accurate responses. Do not make comments to the news media until you have been debriefed by proper U.S. authorities and have been cleared to do so by the appropriate military commanders. You should only say that you are grateful to be alive and thankful for being released. You should not say anything that could harm fellow hostages who may still be in captivity. You must not say anything that is sympathetic to the terrorist cause or that might gain support for them.

Upon release, many hostages feel guilty for not having conducted themselves in a heroic manner. Emotional turmoil is common.

Some may feel angry because they feel that their government did not do enough to protect them. Remember that a government’s unwillingness to make concessions to terrorists discourages future acts of terrorism and sends a message to all terrorists worldwide. When ransoms for captives of terrorists have been paid by governments, these payments have usually been used by terrorists to increase their status and capability to continue terrorist acts. It did not mean that your life had no value. It is the policy of the United States that when Americans are abducted overseas, the United States will continue to cultivate international cooperation to combat terrorism and secure the safe release of the hostages.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

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All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015