Ransom demands and payment amounts vary by country, group, and type of kidnapping. There is no “standard” amount for any country or group in particular, thus it falls on us and others in the intelligence and law enforcement communities to constantly update information regarding such changes. The ransom figure is normally determined by the real or, in most cases, perceived financial situation of the victim.
In a well-negotiated case, the kidnappers will settle for much less money than originally demanded, but in some cases, less is not acceptable.
When malicious groups know a specific country is willing to pay a ransom, the threat of kidnapping and security risk for its citizens locally and overseas increases exponentially.
Many victims are kidnapped by groups with the expectation that they have the financial means to pay a large ransom, only to find they do not; as was the case of South African teacher Pierre Korkie, who was killed during a US-Yemeni rescue operation, a day before his scheduled release by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP originally demanded $3 million dollars but reportedly was willing to accept $200,000 to release him.
Governments and private organizations generally deny that any ransom payment has been made to kidnapping groups, either because it is against the law, or because it is politically unacceptable. When Information on a kidnapping or ransom payment is leaked directly via traditional media or indirectly through social media, it usually comes from a member of the victim’s family, or the victims themselves.
In March 2015, the Czech government paid a $6-million ransom to secure the release of Czech psychology students Hana Humpalova and Antonie Chrastecka kidnapped in Balochistan, Pakistan in March 2013.
In June 2015, kidnapped Argentine agricultural engineer Santiago López Ménendez, was released on 27 June in Niger State, Nigeria after paying a ransom.
On 5 October 2015, judicial sources in Aleppo, Syria said that a nearly 11 million-euro ransom was paid for the release in January 2015 of Italian aid workers Greta Ramelli and Vanessa Marzullo, who were abducted together in Abzimo in July 2014. The sources said one of the people involved in the ransom negotiations, Hussam Atrash, pocketed nearly half of the ransom with the remaining money divided among local warlords.
On 8 December 2015, Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo announced the release of five kidnapped Polish sailors implying that a ransom had been paid for their release, although the amount was not disclosed.
In February 2016, businessman Elias Ukachukwu who was kidnapped in November 2015 from the Festac area of Lagos State, Nigeria, was released after a $2 million ransom payment. Ukachukwu’s kidnappers demanded an additional $1 million from his family after receiving an initial payment of $1 million.
Saul Apreza Patron, the mayor of the town of Olinala, Guerrero State, Mexico was freed on 13 January 2016 after paying an unspecified amount in ransom.
Former president of the United Church of Christ in Nigeria, Reverend Emmanuel Dziggau, who was kidnapped along with two pastors back in March 2016 and later freed, broke his silence in early December revealing that N$ 4 million was paid for their release. In an interview, Dziggau said that the ransom was not paid by the government, but probably was paid by his church. This was a rare confirmation that a church in Nigeria was actually involved in paying a ransom to free one of its pastors.
In July 2016, gunmen abducted Peter Ofulue, an officer of the Lagos Immigration Service, for a second time outside of his apartment in the Owutu, Ikorodu area, four days after he was released from captivity. According to family sources, Ofulue was freed the first time after the family paid N$ 300,000 in ransom. For the second abduction, the kidnappers asked for N$2 million in ransom.
Terrorists groups including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and its affiliates, tend to demand larger ransom payments than common criminals, in part because they are dealing with governments and large, multinational corporations. It is not uncommon to see terrorists’ ransom demands in the millions of dollars. Terrorists tend to hold foreigners captive longer than locals and are less likely to lower their ransom demand.
In October, 2013, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released four French hostages kidnapped back in 2010 after a reported ransom payment of $36 million.
Boko Haram kidnapped a French family of seven in northern Cameroon in February 2013 and released them in April 2013. Boko Haram was given the equivalent of $3.15 million by French and Cameroonian negotiators to release the family.
As of October 2016, the Philippine terrorist group Abu Sayyaf had netted at least $7.4 million from ransom payments, the majority of the money coming from kidnapping foreigners. At least $2.5 million alone has been paid to Abu Sayyaf for the release of 17 Indonesian hostages since May 2016. The $2.5 million did not include the ransom payment for three additional Indonesians.
ISIS is believed to have received millions of dollars over the period of a year in 2015 and 2016 for the release of approximately 230 Assyrian Christians abducted in Syria.
Terrorist and criminal groups typically know which countries pay a ransom and intentionally target their citizens for kidnapping. The citizens of these countries are generally at a higher risk of kidnapping than other nations, whose governments refuse to negotiate with terrorists and pay a ransom. Some exceptions include the US and Great Britain. Citizens of these two countries are considered high-value targets to be used for propaganda purposes even though their respective governments refuse to negotiate and pay a ransom.