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ISLAMABAD, Jan 25: Kidnapping for ransom has always been a well-paying crime but the entry of militants has made this more profitable, which is why the incidence of the case is continuously rising.
Senior investigating officers of police claim that militants are involved in kidnapping cases in all corners of Pakistan.
“They are directly involved in kidnapping in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, especially in Karachi, and Islamabad,” one police officer tells Dawn.
Senior police officers say that money is the main reason for the increased incidence of kidnapping though the militants have also started using it as a tactic to pressure law enforcement and intelligence agencies; in a number of cases they refuse to accept money in exchange for the hostage and ask for the release of their arrested accomplices.
“A third reason is also to spread fear,” says a senior policeman.
However, a new trend is the links the militants and the criminal gangs are forming with each other at different levels. These had first been established when kidnappings were carried out by the two groups together. By now it is routine practice for the kidnapping to be carried out by the local criminals of the area the hostage lives in either out of choice or because they have been asked to do so by militants.
In cases where the objective is to collect ransom, the local criminals continue to keep the hostage in their custody. The hostages are said to be kept in hideouts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Central Punjab.
“But at times, especially when the militants want to spread fear, the hostage is kept in their custody,” says a police officer, adding that the Tehrik-i-Taliban militants have an exclusive committee (Shura) which decides the fate of the victims – exchange for ransom, exchange for militants in state custody or spread fear.
With the entry of militants, religion also tends to play a role in the kidnappings from the act to the negotiations to the release. In some cases, militants have picked up hostages, assuming that they were Ahmedi or Shia. The later realisation that the victims were Sunni compelled the militants to accept a reduced ransom. Some years ago a businessman from Islamabad was kidnapped only to be released when he and his kidnappers were intercepted at a checkpost as they were exiting Islamabad.
During interrogations, the kidnappers revealed that they had kidnapped the businessman because they thought he was a Qadiani. A similar perception about a law enforcement personnel’s faith also led to him being kidnapped.
Dawn has learnt that in many cases, religio-political leaders or religious leaders have helped at the negotiation stage. In such cases, the police react according to the politicians, who negotiate with the militants over the ransom, they added.
For instance, even the negotiations over the release of a Polish engineer, Piotr (Peter) Stanczak, were carried out with the help of a religio-political leader. But as the militants demanded the release of their accomplices arrested in connection with suicide attacks in Islamabad, the two sides could reach no agreement. It was after this that the kidnappers killed the engineer.
In some cases, however, as a last resort, prisoners have been exchanged for hostages. This is what happened in the case of foreign engineers from an East Asian country.
As their captors refused to accept ransom money, the government had no choice but to release militants in exchange.
The ‘business’ has spread so far that separate groups of militants have been formed who ‘specialise’ in kidnappings – they select victims, collect information such as financial wherewithal, carry out the reconnaissance of the area. This information is passed on to the militants who then carry out the kidnapping themselves or pass it to other criminal gangs.
“In some kidnapping cases, the hostages’ families were even informed of their bank balances when the ransom was being negotiated,” an officer adds.
One such group is said to be headed by Mullah Sabir and Mullah Rahim which operates from South Waziristan.
Before they used to work independently but later they started kidnapping for ransom for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, said an official.