American Hostages More Likely to Remain in Captivity or Die Than Other Western Hostages

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Public policy institute New America released a report today on Western hostage policies, featuring findings from new data on 1,185 Westerners taken hostage since 2001. Many of the report’s findings run contrary to the conventional and stated wisdom on “no-concessions” hostage policies of the United States and United Kingdom. In particular, the research found:


  • Since 2001, American hostages taken captive by terrorist, militant and pirate groups have been more than twice as likely to remain in captivity, die in captivity or be murdered by their captors than the average Western hostage.

  • A majority of murdered Western hostages are American or British.

  • Hostages from European countries known to pay ransoms are more likely to be released.

  • Citizens of countries that make concessions such as ransom payments do not appear to be kidnapped at disproportionately high rates.

  • American and British citizens taken hostage by al-Qaeda and ISIS fare worse than continental Europeans taken hostage by these groups.

  • Eight out of 10 EU hostages held by jihadist terrorist groups were freed compared to one in four Americans and one in three Brits.

  • Compared to other revenue streams, the role of ransom payments in funding ISIS is relatively small, with ransoms accounting for no more than an estimated 4 percent of ISIS’ total income in 2014.

The research concludes countries that do not make concessions experience far worse outcomes for their kidnapped citizens, and there is no evidence that American and British citizens are more protected than other Westerners by the refusal of their governments to make concessions.

The dataset comprises information from the nonprofit Hostage US and from open source press reports, government documents, and academic studies.

The full report can be accessed here: https://www.newamerica.org/international-security/policy-papers/pay-ransom-or-not