Sa’adia Reza explores the rising trend of short-term kidnapping
As he walked towards his bank’s head office at II Chundrigar road, Karachi, Zubair* was approached by a young stranger who shook his hand and engaged him in a conversation. When Zubair tried to walk away, the stranger held his hand firmly, told him that he was from a political party and that Zubair was now a hostage.
Two more men appeared, and the three forced Zubair into a rickshaw, took away his ATM and credit cards, cash and a blank cheque that they found in his wallet. After roaming around the city for a few hours, the kidnappers took Zubair to a jewellery shop in Clifton where they used his card to purchase gold biscuits worth Rs2 lakhs.
They kept threatening Zubair of dire consequences if he dared to raise an alarm. Later, they took him to a branch of his bank where he was told to empty out his account which held another Rs2 lakhs, using the blank cheque. Fortunately, Zubair managed to make eye contact with an employee at the bank who got suspicious and raised the alarm. Consequently, the kidnappers decided to escape without having the cheque cashed.
Instant kidnapping, also referred to as random or short-term kidnapping is a relatively new variant of the more traditional way of keeping victims hostage. According to a report published earlier in Dawn, instant kidnapping was first witnessed in 2004-2005, and ever since, a number of cases have been reported — CPLC puts it at 15 to 20 cases a year on an average. Generally, the victim — who does not necessarily belong to an affluent class — is held for ransom for a few hours until the family delivers a certain amount, which could be as little as one-third of the demanded figure. The victim is driven around the city while the kidnappers negotiate with the family and in many cases, they use the victim’s credit and ATM cards as well.
Usually, the kidnappers look for young people or drivers busy talking on cell phones while driving. They serve as soft targets, since their concentration is diverted from their surroundings and therefore, it is easier to force their way into their vehicles. Unlike the more traditional methods of kidnapping, here, the perpetrators are not very concerned with the financial background of the hostage, and are willing to settle for as much as the family can afford. According to a source in anti-violent crime cell (AVCC), the negotiation can begin from Rs6 lakhs and come down to Rs2 lakhs or even less.
As in Zubair’s case, the gangs pretend to be associated with a political party and terrorise the victims so that they readily part with the required amount, as long as they are freed, but are too frightened and traumatised to bring it to the police’s notice. In fact, says an official from the AVCC, only half of the cases are reported. Zubair, for example, refused to lodge an FIR.
According to CPLC and AVCC, some gangs were busted in encounters a few months ago, so incidents of instant kidnapping have decreased.
(*Name changed for security reasons) The photos are a re-enactment using actors and information provided by AVCC, CPLC and other sources.