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Our Role In a Terrorist Event

By |February 10, 2015

“The enemy uses the best negotiator he has, who is normally very sly, and knowledgeable in human psychology. He is capable of planting fear in the abductors’ hearts, in addition to discouraging them”. These words are from Issue 10 of the Mu’ Askar Al Battar: A Terrorist Training Manual. As negotiators, they are expecting us. We should be preparing for them.

September 2004–a group of terrorists seized more than 1,200 hostages in a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan. Despite violence which occurred after contact with authorities, there were missed opportunities to employ negotiation tactics that could have increased the chances for the release of more hostages.

London 2005–Muktar Ibrahim and Ramzi Mohammed, two members of the terrorist mission that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 people were arrested in London. They came out of their flats shirt and pant-less with their hands raised over their heads. They were negotiated out.

March 2012—Between March 11 and March 19, French Terrorist Mohamed Merah’s killed seven people. On March 21, “was taped talking to authorities in the hours before a gunfight ended his life”. He negotiated with them.

December 2014— Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born refugee held hostage 10 customers and eight employees of a chocolate cafe in Australia. He negotiated with police for the better part of 16 hours before he took the life of a hostage and was killed by police.

There are many who believe that we cannot or should not negotiate with terrorists or extremists but as you can see, recent history indicates otherwise. These events, and others like them surely to come, illustrate that managing a hostage-taking with terrorist overtones requires more than just a tactical response. It requires a negotiations component used in synchronization with tactical operators as a part of the overall management strategy. I am talking not about negotiating with terrorists. I am talking about negotiating against terrorists. In other words, employing targeted communications to influence both the behavior of violent extremists and the outcome of the incident. While it will be difficult and time consuming, it is not impossible. Negotiations strategies and tactics are identical to those that would by used during any hostage/barricade incident regardless of the subject’s background.


We need to gather as much information about the actor(s) past history and behavior. What group(s) are they claiming an affiliation or identification with? What is their ideology? Is he a foreign national harboring an extremists ideology because he was raised in an environment that promoted it or is he an internet-radicalized individual whose only real connection to an extremists group is his keyboard? Assess, compare and contrast demands, stated motives and behavior. We also learn about previous grievances and what their motivations are based on their explanation of the ideology.

Buying Time

Terrorism related hostage-taking can last days or weeks. Negotiators can exploit this time by prolonging the dialogue to promote possible positive interaction between hostage-taker and victims. Stretching time also provides for the tactical operators to develop and rehearse emergency or deliberate assault plans. In addition, during protracted incidents, the subject will develop a routine within the crisis site, making him more vulnerable to an assault.


Negotiators are trained in the use of Active Listening Skills (ALS) and its support of the Behavioral Change Stairway (BCS). The BCS, as a tool, can be applied to negotiating against a terrorist. They too have fears, feelings and failings. Using ALS provides a forum for the terrorist to discuss these feelings and allows us to project an understanding of the problem as viewed through their eyes i.e, empathy.

Terrorists and extremists usually have some demand, demonstrating that they have a basic understanding of, and therefore are susceptible to, the principle of reciprocity. This supports the notion that we need to be versed not only in negotiations techniques but also bargaining and problem-solving.

Recent events have shown us that high-profile hostage-takings by persons identifying with extreme elements are an increasingly popular and influential pursuit. They are theater and will likely continue because of their capability of attracting an international audience. Most agencies have a robust tactical response to a terrorist hostage-taking do not appreciate the necessity for an equally robust negotiations response. As long terrorists have an understanding of the principle of reciprocity, negotiations are possible. The dynamic nature of such incidents may mean that a tactical resolution is inevitable but negotiators will be critical in getting the maximum number of innocents out before entry is made. The objective is all go home or as many as possible go home. The only ones we have absolutely no shot with are the ones whom have already blown themselves up.

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