Belmont Club

The business of cruelty

A man without apparent high value, just an ordinary technical professional from a medium-sized former Eastern European country was brutally killed in Pakistan. Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak was shown being beheaded in Pakistan in a video released to the press. The Australian reports:

Pakistani militants are believed to have beheaded a Polish engineer kidnapped four months ago in the first execution of a western hostage since Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed in 2002. A graphic seven-minute video, apparently showing the beheading of Piotr Stanczak, was delivered to several news wire agencies at the weekend. The video shows Mr Stanczak sitting on the ground flanked by two masked Talibani before three other men behead him.

Why would they do it? Let’s examine the Jihad from a non-religious perspective. Hostage taking can be big business. Eduardo F. Ugarte, in a scholarly examination of kidnapping activities in Mindanao, notes that a market for hostages exists in which low-level gangs can pick up likely targets and onsell them to a ransom packager for a price, almost like commercial paper. The final hostage holder is often a group with the most fearsome reputation and ultimately negotiates with any likely hostage buyers. The group known to be the most ruthless and cruel is best placed to get the highest price for the hostage. The Abu Sayaf’s major asset, for example, was their reputation for cruelty. Ugarte quotes a source in the full article describing how it works.

‘…it has become public knowledge in Sulu that certain kidnap-for ransom (KFR) syndicates based in the island turn their victims over to the ASG. (This was done particularly during the time of bandit type commanders like the late Ghalib Andang (“Robot”) and Mujib Susukan, in a classic criminal partnership.  The ASG could then jack up the ransom demands because of its reputation.’

Maintaining a brand name in cruelty is an important part of the terrorist business. Being kind is bad for Islamic extremist business. This explains why they must, every now and again, commit some act of spectacular barbarism. It’s builds up their name in the business. Just how do the ransom gangs decide whether to make a visitor a target. From anecdotal data I believe they look for indications of wealth or prestige. For example, an acquaintance who was kidnapped last year on Basilan and released only a short time ago was held because the cellular phone in the victim’s possession contained directory entries to prominent persons. It was inferred that the victim had a deal of money, which was not the case. And it took nearly half a year and a lot of luck until the kidnappers decided the victim was a dry hole.

For these reasons, people who fear being kidnapped often hide their American passports or other documents indicating their relative value. Some may try to play dumb as possible into the bargain. It’s natural to think that if you say, “you can’t do this to me, I’m a …” you will deter your captors. It may have the opposite effect. Of course even being a nobody may not let you off the hook entirely. At one point, there were people soliciting money in tin cups for the ransom of street sweepers and road men in Basilan, poor men who were being held by so called “rebels” for ransoming amounting to $50 American.

Brother, can you spare a dime?