The silent side of hostage negotiations

Just because it looks like no one is talking does not mean no one is talking.


“I am sure the RCMP is involved,” said Canadian hostage negotiations expert Tom Hart of his assessment of where things could be.

When it comes to deadly kidnappers, who have already murdered a Canadian hostage, silence is not always negative.

In fact murderous Abu Sayyaf kidnappers in the Philippines, despite the tough edict from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada does not pay ransom, may very well be in communication with Canadian officials.

My only goal is to encourage Trudeau to keep trying his best to free a Canadian and his fellow hostage.

It’s too late for Calgary’s John Ridsdel, beheaded last week in Mindanao. But if the Mounties are in discussions with Abu Sayyaf captors there’s some hope for remaining Canadian captive Robert Hall along with Filipina Marites Flor and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad — all who looked beaten down in a ransom-demand video last week.

Interesting to watch the main captor with the only covered face reading demands off a smart phone.

The Mounties know how to look for clues in such a video.

“I have a great deal of confidence with the RCMP’s ability and resources,” said Hart.

The government has not confirmed whether or not the RCMP or Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) specialists are involved.

“The Government of Canada’s first priority is the safety and security of its citizens,” said Rachna Mishra of Global Affairs Canada. “The Government of Canada will not comment or release any information which may compromise ongoing efforts or endanger the safety of the remaining hostages.”

Hart reads this as a positive.

“Kidnapping people and holding them for a ransom in an effort to raise money to support the ISIS movement represents a serious threat to the western world,” said Hart. “The act of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group holding Robert Hall hostage (and the murder of Ridsdel) is an act of terrorism and should be treated as if it occurred in Canada.”

Having been involved in negotiations for kidnapped hostages during his 32 years as a police officer, Hart now teaches law enforcement how to conduct such negotiations. Hart is a former police detective with Durham Regional Police where he spent 20 years as a crisis negotiator and eight years as a tactical officer. Today Hart is president and lead instructor for the Canadian Critical Incident Incorporated (CCII). which is a “Canadian government-accredited training organization offering courses in critical incident command, crisis negotiating and workshops for first responders.”

He is the first to admit this case is as difficult as one can get where the kidnappers are looking for at least $6 million per hostage.

“The subject assessment in this case is an organized terrorist group that no doubt planned and prepared for this kidnapping months in advanced,” said Hart, adding they are likely “goal driven” to “financially support their terrorist network.”

So how to you get around the fact that Canada won’t pay anything?

“With respect to the ‘no payment’ for ransom policy, the negotiating and command team could consider negotiating the safe surrender of the hostage-takers and (allowing them to) live to fight another day,” said Hart. “By negotiating this option, it would allow the military to prepare for the most appropriate tactical response.”

But unlike some kidnappers who are “the expressive criminal” who “can be successfully negotiated by rapport building” this group is “not intimidated by the police or military involvement and are aware of their tactics.

“The hostages are simply considered to be a tool towards their criminal act of extorting money for their release,” said Hart.

Contact with them though is necessary in what would be “unique” logistical “challenges.”

If contact is made, Hart said a crisis negotiating team would consist of three to five trained and qualified crisis negotiators.

Silence in the public is fine as long as they are talking.

Remember the Mounties helped gain the freedom of Canadian James Loney in 2006.

Said Hart: “Keep in mind the hostage-takers need the negotiating team as much as the negotiating team needs them.”

We all need this ugliness to end and for Hall, Flor and Sekkingstad to be returned home.

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