Calculating Risk: What Should I Do If I Encounter a Forest Fire?
On the morning of November 10, 2008, New York Times reporter David Rohde set off with his fixer/translator, Tahir Ludin, to interview a Taliban commander southeast of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. Rohde had been in the country for only a monthand had been married for only two. It would be 221 days before Rohde and Ludin were heard from again.
For Rohde, the risk of kidnapping was part of the job. He'd been detained in a foreign country beforein 1996, when Serb authorities accused him of being a spy during his Pulitzer Prizewinning coverage of the Srebrenica massacrebut this time was different. His capture had most likely been orchestrated by the very man he was meeting, and there was a significant price for his release: a reported $25 million, at first. Word of Rohde's abduction was slow to leak out. The Times worked to keep the story out of the headlines, fearing publicity would further endanger Rohde and Ludin, and was negotiating with the captors via a security firm. But negotiations were halting, then they stopped altogether.
Kidnapping is a constantly evolving threat for any traveler heading into an unstable area. By some estimates, there are as many as 15,000 international abductions per yearandthe hot spots keep shifting. Atop the current list is Mexico City, followed by Caracas, Venezuela. Right behind them is (surprise!) Phoenix, Arizona, thanks to an influx of drug cartels. Regardless of location, the majority of kidnappers are after the same thing: money. The average ransom paid approaches six figures, and perpetrators often have in-depth knowledge of their victims' financials, says Katie Colberg, a response consultant at the security firm ASI Global.
Before booking a trip to a high-risk area, consider kidnap-ransom-and-extortion insurance from companies like Travelers Insurance or eGlobalHealth Insurers Agency, which will coordinate with crisis-management firms to organize your release and will often repay any financial losses, including ransoms. And if you are abducted, be patientvery few people successfully escape. "Waiting is the most difficult part," says Colberg. "You feel forgotten." The only place where ASI advises people to attempt to escape is Iraq, where Westerners are typically killed.
Ultimately, Rohde and Ludin decided they had to save themselves. They made their break at night, after their guards were asleep, using a rope they'd found to descend a compound wall. Back in Kabul, Ludin told reporters that their escape was a desperate gamble by two demoralized captives. Rohde has yet to tell his story, but while traveling back to the U.S., he reportedly told a colleague, "All I want to do now is stay at home with my wife and cook some pasta."