A look at how the United States and various European nations have dealt with hostage-taking and ransom demands for their citizens in recent years:
U.S. policy prohibits government negotiation with terrorists, including paying ransom demands. Technically, family members or employers of captives could be prosecuted for paying ransom on charges of providing support to terrorists, although the government is wrestling with whether that should be changed.
Belgium is widely thought to negotiate and pay ransoms if needed to free its citizens, even though the government in Brussels routinely denies ransom payments. A Belgian writer, Pierre Piccinin da Prata, was released from captivity in Syria last September alongside an Italian journalist, Domenico Quirico of La Stampa, but neither Belgium or Italy commented on the circumstances of their release. In another incident, five aid workers held captive in Syria for several months, including a Belgian national, were released in May. Neither the aid group Doctors Without Borders nor the governments involved discussed details of the negotiations leading to their release.
Unlike some European countries, Britain doesn’t become involved in ransom negotiations, said Nigel Inkster, the director of transnational threats and political risk at IISS in London. But the government has not sought to prevent ransom payments on a private basis. “That is something qualitatively different,” Inkster said. “When the government takes ownership, it invests the whole thing with a political significance.”
France says it does not pay ransoms. In April, when President Francois Hollande welcomed home French journalist Nicolas Henin, he insisted that France honored its policy of not paying ransoms saying “it’s a very important principle.” French companies whose staff have been released after being taken hostage in Africa also deny unsourced accusations that they paid ransoms. However it is widely believed that funds may end up in terror coffers through middlemen.
The official line is that Germany doesn’t pay ransoms. A foreign ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, referred The Associated Press to Germany’s support for Security Council resolution 2133, which calls on member states to “prevent terrorists from benefiting directly or indirectly from ransom payments.” German media have reported, however, that payments are sometimes made by the employers or family of a kidnap victim, or in the form of development aid for the country or region where the kidnapping took place. The official declined to comment on this.
Italy is on record with a 2013 G-8 statement as “‘unequivocally” rejecting ransom payments to terrorists. In the mid-2000s, then Premier Silvio Berlusconi reiterated his government’s denial that the country had paid millions of euros to free Italian hostages in Iraq. But it is widely thought that Italy has paid ransoms for its citizens’ freedom. The head of the Italian aid organization Emergency claimed the Italian government, then led by Romano Prodi, had paid $2 million in 2006 to the Taliban for the freedom of a kidnapped Italian photographer in Afghanistan. Prodi didn’t deny the claim — instead he said the negotiations were carried out following procedures put into place by the previous, Berlusconi-led government.
Poland denies paying ransom or negotiating with terrorists. Two Poles held hostage in Iraq were freed in raids 10 years ago.
Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland have said it’s their policy not to pay ransom for hostages. Whether it has happened or not is unclear. Some reports have detailed ransom payments dropped in bags from planes into the sea for Somali pirates. One group of four adults and three children from Denmark were kidnapped on Feb. 24, 2011 in their sailboat as they crossed the Indian Ocean. They were released after about five months, allegedly after a ransom of $3 million was paid.
Spain has never either confirmed or denied that ransoms have been paid but Spanish media have often reported on payments for some releases of kidnap victims. The Foreign Ministry says the government uses “maximum discretion” when dealing with kidnapping cases and declined comment on whether a ransom was paid for a reporter and photographer released in March after six months’ captivity in Syria. In a court case involving the hijacking of a fishing vessel by pirates off Somalia in 2009, Spain’s National Court said a government-linked body had paid a ransom of several million, although the foreign minister at the time had denied that any ransom had been paid.
AP staff from around Europe contributed to this article.