What does hijacker wants: How security forces negotiate with terrorists?

Author : Iryna Shostak

Source : 112 Ukraine

In Lutsk, a man hijacked a bus with people and threatens to detonate a bomb
17:10, 22 July 2020

Open source

In Lutsk, a man hijacked a bus with people and threatens to detonate a bomb. The invader presented his demands to law enforcement officers. Tens, hundreds, and even thousands of lives depended on the course of the negotiations with terrorists.

You've probably heard this phrase in films: “We do not negotiate with terrorists.” Such statements by the governments of various countries about the impossibility of dealing with terrorists are shattered against the reality in which negotiations are not a weak point, but the only opportunity for a state to fulfill its main duty to protect the population.

That is why the art of such negotiations has its own subtleties and stages, ignorance of which will certainly entail sacrifices. For example, having heard the demands of a terrorist, a common man in the street will draw conclusions about his ambitions and psychological state, while for professional negotiators, his demands become the key to resolving the situation.

The first thing law enforcement officers should do in such a situation is to make a clear distinction between instrumental and expressive motivation. If terrorists take hostages, seize buildings or kidnap people in order to exchange them for specific results (travel abroad, capture to avoid arrest for a crime committed, seizure by mentally ill people seeking to attract attention to themselves, the achievement of any political goals), then they are driven by instrumental motivation. It is in the case of such motivation that it makes sense to enter into negotiations, during which, through skillful psychological manipulations, it is possible to achieve success by lowering the level of readiness, alertness of terrorists, neutralizing it.

Related: Lutsk terrorist case: View of former law enforcers

This motivation was used by the members of the terrorist Palestinian "Black September" organization that during the Olympic Games in Munich (1972) took the athletes of the Israeli national team hostage, demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons (17 people were killed), as well as from the militants Hamas, which in 2006 captured Israeli sergeant Gilad Shalit and in exchange for his life demanded the release of about a thousand Palestinian prisoners.

But if we are talking about expressive motivation (mass actions with unclear requirements, the main purpose of which is to draw attention to ideology, movement, to cause fear), it is pointless to enter into negotiations, because the security services waste time trying to understand what the terrorists want, and the event gains momentum on social media, inspiring and thus expanding the field of supporters. Such were the attacks in Mumbai (2008), Sydney (2014), Paris (2015), Orlando (2016). The purpose of such acts is not to bargain for the desired, but to maximize public resonance (more pain and more fear).

Related: Court to choose preventive measure for Lutsk terrorist on July 23

The second thing the security forces do is establish personal verbal contact with the terrorist (in order to be able to react to any step taken). This stage is the most difficult. Experienced negotiators advise:

  • obtain verbal assurances from the invaders that they will not attempt to take aggressive action;
  • when approaching terrorists, pay attention to the availability of sufficient space in the place of shelter and assess how much their tension will increase when the negotiator approaches;
  • do not start negotiations if the negotiator is kept at gunpoint;
  • try to get to the bottom of the problem only after some time and when mutual understanding and trust between the negotiator and the terrorists are established;
  • not agree to direct communication with several invaders at once;
  • when communicating, try to look the invader directly in the eyes;
  • never turn your back on terrorists;
  • always leave yourself a retreat.

In the process of further communication with the terrorist, at each of the stages of negotiation (4 stages: diagnostic, "seizing positions", setting conditions and forming the final position), it is necessary to obtain as much information as possible about his intentions, taking into account the data on the terrorist's personality, to bypass sharp corners (downplaying what the terrorists have already done and negotiating in such a way as to give the impression that progress has been made and that both sides benefit).

Professionals also note that in the course of a conversation it is worth avoiding questions that can be answered in monosyllables, thus leading the terrorist to a long conversation, which helps not only to calm him down but also enables the relevant forces to think over the course of the operation to free the hostages.

The rest of the stages of the negotiations are associated with the analysis of the conditions put forward by the invaders, their consideration and discussion.

It is also worth noting that negotiation tactics can vary depending on the motives for the hostage-taking, which are based on three different reasons:

  • Criminogenic (when a criminal is caught at the scene by police officers);
  • Psychogenic (they consider hostage-taking as a real means of solving a problem that has arisen in their imagination);
  • Political (strive to correct the existing injustice by their own standards).

It is precisely by defining the goal, motive, and psychotype of the terrorist that negotiators come to success. Indeed, for example, in the case of a political motive, giving alternative solutions and explanations containing certain political concessions, one can come to a solution to the conflict.

Related: Interior Ministry shows photos of Lutsk hijacker's weapons

Successful negotiations with terrorists are not about good improvisation, intuition, or preliminary preparations, but rather about quick wits in stressful conditions with limited time. As practice shows, only careful targeted training and a proven scientific approach to the selection of the necessary negotiation tactics can turn the tide and achieve success from the very beginning.


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