Wednesday, April 26, 2017

by K.J. Howe

Kidnapping has been in the news a great deal lately.  On Easter weekend, Abu Sayyaf terrorists had been planning a mass kidnapping at a vacationer resort, knowing it would be packed to capacity.  But safety forces were able to engage these kidnappers in a military battle, and six militants were killed--as well as three troopers and a policeman.

Abu Sayyaf chief Moammar Askali, also called Abu Rami, who was involved with the beheadings of Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel and German Jurgen Kanter was one of those killed in the raids. Philippine intelligence helped stopped more tourists from being captured and potentially killed.

In North Korea, Kim Jong-Un has threatened to kidnap foreigners from South Korea.  Uno-gil Lee, a former clandestine special operator who escaped shared that diplomats, tourists, and foreign businessmen will be at risk of Kim bringing them to the North and ultimately killing them.  Lee shares that covert operatives will be traveling to the South in search of targets.  North Korea possesses as many as 20 nuclear warheads, and this volatile country is in the news daily.  The regime claims that 220, 000 people died during the severe famine in the 1990s, but Western reports say around 3 million people died.

Now North Korea has detained a Professor Tony Kim who is a US citizen.  Is this a sign of where things are headed?  There are already two other US citizens known to be in North Korean custody.  Otto Warmbier, a twenty-one year old student was detained and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly removing a political sign from a hotel wall.  Kim Dong Chul, a naturalized citizen of Korean origin, was arrested in October 2015, and he was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on espionage charges.


The world is changing, and freedom brokers like my character Thea Paris are going to be in high demand.  But what Thea wants most is protect people from becoming hostages.  Prevention is the single best way of dealing with kidnapping.  How can you stay safe while traveling abroad?  Here are a few tips to help you avoid trouble while you are on the road:

*Avoid traveling alone, if possible.  Kidnappers tend to zero in on solo targets, as it's much easier to abduct a single individual than a group of travellers.  If you must travel alone, talk about your colleague or partner who is waiting for you at the hotel.
*Leave your jewelry and expensive electronics at home.  Do not look wealthy, or you'll become an attractive target.
*Don't use taxis.  Instead, ask your hotel to arrange for a trusted driver.  It may cost a little more, but your safety is worth it.
*Give a detailed itinerary to loved ones at home, so they know where you are while abroad.  Have specific check-in times to confirm you are safe.
*Before heading to a country, read about any travel advisories.  If there are warnings, consider cancelling the trip.  Your safety should be paramount.
*Avoid using your cellphone or any other distractions while out in public.  Foster a situational awareness, looking around for any potential sources of trouble.  Trust your gut if something feels wrong.

The world offer phenomenal travel opportunities, and whether it is for business or pleasure, seeing spectacular vistas and learning about other cultures is a special part of life.  Just take the proper steps to stay safe.  And remember, Thea Paris is there for your anytime, anywhere if you find yourself in hot water.

4 comments:

  1. Oh, K.J. - What a timely post. With so many enemies endeavoring to kidnap innocents, demand ransoms or use them as bargaining chips in various ways, it is indeed so important for everyone to protect themselves. And your list of points to do just that was terrific. We should all take heed! Thanks so much for this great article.

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  2. I agree with Karna. So very timely, and what great advice for safe traveling!

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  3. I can't help but adding: Don't go to North Korea.

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  4. I found this fascinating. What really jumped out at me was the story of Otto Warmbier, the twenty-one year old student sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for removing a political sign from a building. This young man probably wanted a souvenir, but that's a high price to pay. Higher even than the accused spy, who was given 10 years. It should be a wake up call. Having been a life long traveler, I find it's easy to forget that other countries are apt to be less lenient for things we might view as minor infractions. I remember being escorted at gunpoint to the assigned seat on my theater ticket after taking an open seat in a movie theater in Tel Aviv. The soldier was not nice, and he was not amused that I didn't know the rules were different. My job to know what the rules are there, not their job to educate me and/or cut me any slack. I think of those American's who worked in Iraq, who were hiking to see a popular Iraqi tourist destination, the Ahmed Awa waterfall. The inadvertently crossed the border into Iran, were captured and accused of spying. The woman was released after 14 months on "humanitarian grounds." The two men were convicted of illegal entry and espionage two years after they were arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison. They were eventually released after a bail of about $465K was arranged by the Sultan of Oman. And all they did was stray a little afield during a hike. Your tips for safe travel should be well heeded. Thanks for sharing them.

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