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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Tragedy No Justification For Ransom




Over the past year, the epidemic of kidnapping in Chechnya had become almost a humdrum business. The Chechen government pledged to fight the hostage takers but achieved almost nothing. Hostages were taken and most were eventually freed.


The kidnapping industry in Chechnya survived and thrived on ransoms. Many of those involved have been reluctant to admit to paying blood money to terrorists, but it is clear that millions of dollars changed hands.


The civilized world says this practice is unacceptable. No one should give in to kidnappers because this only encourages them to go on committing more crimes.


Yet, the murder of the three Britons and a New Zealander working on assignment for a British telecommunications company in Chechnya provides a horrifying example of how hard it will be to break this circle.


It appears that the murder occurred precisely because, just once, the feeble anti-terrorism squad run by Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov made a serious attempt to free the hostages.


Somehow the kidnappers got wind of this and, in a panic, brutally murdered their hostages. Had the British telecom company cooperated and simply paid a ransom, those four men may still have been alive today.


This is not just a bitter footnote. It is also a question that will weigh on the minds of those negotiating withthe kidnappers who have been holding United Nations worker Vincent Cochetel for the past year and who seized U.S. citizen Herbert Gregg a few months ago. It is equally important for the tens of Russians who are still captive in Chechnya.


Officially, Western governments repudiate the idea of paying money to kidnappers. But what is the alternative? The kidnappers are desperate and will not stop at murder. This is not a game.


Inevitably, authorities must confront kidnappers and stop paying ransom demands. It is a tragic consequence that this may cost more lives. But the alternative is subsidizing the kidnapping business indefinitely.


A hard line on ransom payment must be accompanied by other measures, however. First, foreigners must steer clear of Chechnya and they must exercise the strictest care in traveling in the neighboring regions of Dagestan or Ingushetia. The British company Granger Telecom, which employed the four victims, must be ruing its recklessness.


Equally important are moves to try to strengthen the authority of the central government in Grozny, which is the only force that can take on the kidnappers. Russian funding to Maskhadov may alleviate the poverty that recruits young men into the kidnapping business.