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The Islamic State has used western hostages as a bargaining chip for negotiations (money and prisoner releases) as well as part of the Islamic State information operations campaign. A number of western hostages have been beheaded or shot. One captured Jordanian pilot was burned alive in a metal cage. Almost all of these hostage killings have been video taped and displayed on the Internet.

Medin, Joakim. This Sweidsh journalist was released from a weeklong captivity in Syria. Age 30, the journalist and his interpreter were captured by Syrian government forces while working in the Kurdish parts of Syria.

Mueller, Kayla Jean. Captured in August 2013 while traveling from Syria to Turkey, Mueller was killed at some point in either January or February 2015.The Islamic State (IS) reported that she was killed in a Jordanian bombing attack against a Syrian storage facilty. However, the Jordanians and the United States dispute this allegation, saying that IS killed her. Her identity had been kept secret by the United States and her family until February 2015 out of fear for her safety. Mueller was from Prescott, Arizona and was a humanitarian aid worker based in Turkey. She was on a short overnight visit to northern Syria when she was taken hostage by ISIL. Previously Mueller had worked as a humanitarian worker in the countries of India, Israel and the Palestian Territories.

al-Kasaesbeh, Mouath. This Jordanian Air Force pilot, a Lieutenant age 26, was captured after his jet crashed in Syria in December 2014. His captors pulled him from a body of water. The Islamic State claimes they shot his jet down while the U.S. and Jordan say it was an aircraft crash not caused by enemy action. He was killed by the Islamic State in gruesome fashion - burned alive in a metal cage. The video of his execution, entitled "Healing of the Believers' Chests", was posted online by IS. According to Jordanian state television the captive was killed on January 3, 2015. The Jordanian government had indicated it was prepared to swap a prisoner sentenced to death for her role in the 2005 Amman hotel bombings for the Jordanian pilot. Once the Jordanians learned of the pilots death they quickly executed the female prisoner. Kasaesbeh came from a large and influential tribe centered in Karak, a province south of Amman, Jordan.

Goto, Kenji. A Japanese journalist was beheaded by the Islamic State after Japan refused to pay ransom for his release.

Cantlie, John. This journalist, captured by the Islamic State in November 2012, has yet to be executed. He has narrated (and starred in) several videos on behalf of the Islamic State - a fact that has likely led to his post-poned execution. Cantlie has been captured twice by the Islamic State. The first time in July 2012 when he and a Dutch photographer were captured by a jihadi group the included British fighters. He was later captured in November of that year.

Sotloff, Steven. An American journalist was beheaded by the Islamic State in late 2014.

Kassig, Peter. An American aid worker was killed by the Islamic State in late 2014.

Henning, Alan. A British aid worker was killed by the Islamic State.

Haines, David. A British aid worker was killed by the Islamic State.

Foley, James. An American journalist who was beheaded by the Islamic State in August 2014. The IS posted a video of his beheading on the Internet.

Tice, Austin. Tice is a freelance journalist who has worked for various news media organizations. He was captured in Sryia on August 13, 2012 outside of Damacus, Syria. It is unknown which group is holding him hostage. A video was released in September 2012 showing him blindfolded but alive. The FBI is leading the investingation and negotiations in this case.

Beheadings. Usually the Islamic State will decapitate its captives with a long knife and then place the head on the body.

Women Hostages. The Islamic State is estimated to have captured over 2,500 women of the Yazidi religious sect in Syria and Iraq. The women have been sold into slavery or as wives to IS fighters. The rape of women hostages is permissable under the rules of the Islamic State. The IS has published a pamplet providing guidelines for the treatment of women captives. 1.

Released European. At least a dozen or so Europeans have been released from captivity by ISIS after a ransom has been paid. It is against United States policy to pay a ransom for hostages - leading to the beheading of some of the U.S. captives.

Orange Jumpsuits. A trademark of Islamic State hostages is the donning of orange jumpsuits.

Ransom for Hostages. It is the United States government's policy that it will not pay ransom for hostages. In fact, in the past, the government has indicated it will prosecute famlies who try to pay ransom for hostages. As rescue atttempts are unlikely to succeed this 'no ransom policy' consigns a certain death to American hostages. That policy may be changing in the future.

Papers and Publications about Islamic State Hostages
(listed in chronological order)

Rollins, John W. and Liana Rosen. U.S. Citizens Kidnapped by the Islamic State, CRS Insight, February 13, 2015. (IN10167).

Quiggle, Doyle. "The ISIS Beheading Narrative", Small Wars Journal, February 26, 2015. This article identifies the plotline of the ISIS beheading narrative - reasoning that if we want to undermine and neutralize ISIS Internet recruitment propaganda then we need to understand how and why their symbols appeal to their target audience.

Videos about Hostages

April 7, 2015. "Abducted Abroad: Returning American Hostages", New America Foundation, posted on YouTube.com. A panel discussion led by Peter Bergen and with paricipation by Gary Noesner (former FBI hostage negotiator), Debra Tice (mother of Austin Tice), and Barak Barfi (reseacher on New America).

News Stories about Western Hostages

June 11, 2015. "Special Forces officer: American hostages held overseas 'failed' by U.S. government". The Washington Post. In a U.S. Senate hearing Lt. Col. Jason Amerine said that the effort to recover U.S. hostages was "dysfunctional" and mired in failures hidden by bureaucracy.

June 4, 2015. "Should There Be a Hostage Czar?". By Brian Michael Jenkins, RAND Corporation Blog. Jenkins thinks a czar would come with policy issues and operational risks.

April 15, 2015. "Meet the General Shaking Up America's Yemen, ISIS, and Hostage Rescue Plans", The Daily Beast. LTG Bennet Sacolick's office is reviewing U.S. hostage policy and strategy.

March 11, 2015. "Why did victims in Islamic State beheading videos look so calm? They didn't know it was real". The Washington Post. Many of the videos show a stage-managed performance.

February 23, 2015. "Kayla Mueller's brother: Taliban swap raised IS demands". Military Times. He says that after the SGT Bowe Bergdahl trade for five high-level Taliban the stakes went up.

February 23, 2015. "What the Media Gets Wrong about Rescuing Hostages". Overt Action. Kevin Strouse tells us hostage rescue is 'complicated'.

February 22, 2015. "Kayla Mueller's Dad: US 'Put Policy in Front of American Citizens' Lives'". NBC News. The issue of not paying ransom is raised.

February 21, 2015. "Debating a Change of Faith Under Brutal Captivity". The New York Times. James Foley reportedly converted to Islam during his abduction.

February 18, 2015. "How Much are Americans Worth?" International Affairs Review, Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. The author suggests that a cost-benefit analysis be conducted of whether the 2011 counterterrorism strategy of not paying ransoms is truly in the national interest.

February 15, 2015. "Parents of missing journalist Austin Tice urge US to revamp hostage policies". Stars and Stripes. A freelance journist went missing three years ago outside Damascus, Sryri.

February 14, 2015. "The anatomy of a failed hostage rescue deep into Islamic State territory". The Washington Post. Article provides info on how to conduct a hostage raid and the attempts to rescue hostages held by the Islamic State and other jihadi groups.

February 12, 2015. "Why the World Needs Reporters: Reflections on Kenji Goto". The Diplomat.The world needs reporters who serve the people, dig up secretes, reveal the truth, and expose what is hidden.

February 11, 2015. "U.S. Won't Investigate ISIS Hostage's Death". The Daily Beast.

February 11, 2015. "Kayla Mueller and the Sad History of Hostage-Taking". The Wall Street Journal.

February 10, 2015. "Islamic State preys on humanity's 'death instinct'". Reuters. This article examines the reasoning behind the IS killing of its western hostages.

February 10, 2015. "President Obama says he made risky attempt to rescue Kayla Mueller". The Hill Blog.

February 10, 2015. "Kayla Mueller's Islamic State captivity was different, in both life and death". McClatchy DC.

February 10, 2015. "Kayla Mueller: American ISIS Captive Wrote Letter to Family Before Her Death". ABC News. The family released the letter after confirmation of her death.

February 10, 2015. "Parents Confirm Death of American Hostage Kayla Mueller". Passport Foreign Policy. ISIS sent confirmation (and pictures) proving the death of Kayla.

February 10, 2015. "White House Confirms Death of American IS Hostage". Voice of America.

February 10, 2015. "Pentagon Expresses Sorrow for Death of American Kayla Mueller". DoD News.

February 10, 2015. "The Death of Kayla Jean Mueller". U.S. Department of State Press Statement.

February 9, 2015. "Hostage's role in Islamic State videos may have raised his value to group". McClatchy DC. John Cantlie is escaping death with his propaganda videos on behalf of the Islamic State.

February 5, 2015. "Brutal treatment of prisoners is traditional jihadi tactic, former SEAL says". Starts and Stripes. Dan O'Shea speaks of experiences in OIF.

February 3, 2015. "Islamic State video claims to show burning death of Jordanian pilot". The Washington Post. The pilot is burned alive in a metal cage.

February 3, 2015. "The Right Way to Pay Ransoms to Terrorists". The New York Times. The author, David McAdams, believes that a reward system similar to the State Department's "Rewards for Justice" program authorized by the 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism could be implemented to diminish the threat of hostage taking and kidnappings by terrorist organizations.

October 25, 2015. "The Horror Before the Beheadings". The New York Times. ISIS hostages endured torture and dashed hopes, freed cellmates say.

September 3, 2014. "An elegy for reporter James Foley". The Washington Post. A friend of Foley's wrote a poem in his memory - In the Absence of Sparrows.

July 9, 2014. "Paying Ransoms, Europe Bankrolls Qaeda Terror". By Rukmini Callimachi, The New York Times. The modern day era of hostage taking by Islamic terrorists was a new start of the global business of taking hostages. Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a big money-maker for Al Qaeda and other related groups - funding terrorist operations across the globe.



1. For more on the guidelines for the treatment of women hostages by Islamic State fighters read "ISIS releases 'abhorrent' sex slaves pamplet with 27 tips for militants on taking, punishing, and raping female captives", The Independent, December 10, 2014.

2. For more on Joakim Medin see "Report: Swedish journalist released from captivity in Syria". The Washington Post.

3. Read more in "U.S. will no longer prosecute families who try to pay ransom for hostages", LA Times, June 23, 2015.


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