Nobody Gets Out of Somalia ‘Unless They Pay’
Kidnapped journalist Michael Scott Moore free after someone paid his ransom
Two and a half years ago, freelance journalist Michael Scott Moore set out to report on Somali pirates. But while traveling down a road with his bodyguards, Moore disappeared.
He’d been kidnapped. Now more than two and a half years later, Moore is free.
His kidnappers received an undisclosed ransom and released the German-American journalist on Sept. 23, according to Der Spiegel, one of Moore’s media employers. During his captivity, his kidnappers frequently moved him around—to throw off a potential rescue mission—and forced him to stand for photographs while surrounded by armed men.
At one point, his kidnappers threatened to sell him to the Islamic terror group Al Shabab. Moore was last held against his will in Adado, a dusty town near the Ethiopian border in central Somalia. He’s now in Mogadishu, according to the Associated Press.
“The kidnappers were hurting for money since they held him for two years, and the clan that was holding Moore was putting pressure on them to pay up,” Robert Young Pelton, a journalist who communicated with Moore’s kidnappers, tells War is Boring. “Nobody gets out of Somalia unless they pay.”
But his kidnapping is also a lesson in how those ostensibly looking out for your interests are often doing quite the opposite. Kidnapping is a business and Somalis are good at it.
Inside-job kidnappings are also common, in which the people journalists and aid workers hire for protection either kidnap and hold their clients for ransom, or kidnap them and sell them to the highest bidder.
In Somalia, an initial ransom starts at around $3 million, which the kidnappers expect to barter down to various amounts depending on who they’ve captured.
Ship crews are worth next to nothing—it’s the ships themselves the pirates ransom for many millions of dollars. It’s worth noting that piracy off the Somali coast has declined sharply in recent years, as well.
You’re worth $400,000 if you’re British, and up to $1 million if you’re American. Depending on how desperate the kidnappers are, the ransom can drop to $500,000. So a large reason why hostages are held for months or years is because it takes time to bargain down the ransom.
This appears to have happened to Moore when a members of a Somali private security group—essentially hired guns—based in the town of Galkayo grabbed him on a road leading to a nearby airport in January 2012.
But a confluence of events turned the kidnapping into an excruciatingly prolonged ordeal by even Somali kidnapping standards.
Several months prior, criminals snatched two aid workers with a Danish agency that works to remove land mines. A week after Moore’s capture, U.S. Navy SEALs launched a raid into Somalia to rescue the aid workers.
The SEALs turned the airport in the town of Galkayo into a temporary fortress and helicopter base. The commandos then flew out towards the pirates’ hideout, freeing the kidnapped workers and shooting the kidnappers in their heads while they slept.
The commandos’ daring rescue raid shocked Moore’s kidnappers, hiding out in the town of Hobyo some 25 miles away.
The kidnappers were already under the impression that Americans are rich, a misconception to say the least—especially when applied to freelance journalists. But now Westerners like Moore suddenly appeared to be a lot more valuable than anything his family or employers could reasonably expect to pay.
The kidnappers demanded $20 million. His media employers enforced a news blackout.
More than two and a half years passed.
Moore’s friends in the United States grumbled about being left out of the loop. As time went on without a resolution, the kidnappers grew furious at both Moore’s mother and the ransom negotiators. Moore’s friends began discussing whether to act on their own.
Fortunately, the kidnappers appear to have come to their senses, with the ransom demand aligning—years later—with what could be paid. And Moore is now free.