AQIM Releases Swiss Hostage: Was a Ransom Paid?

On Saturday, an AQIM affiliate in the Sahara released the last of four European hostages, a Swiss man named Werner Greiner, to Malian authorities. Two other hostages had been released earlier, while another, British citizen Edwin Dyer, was executed by the group in May.

Conflicting information has emerged about whether European authorities paid a ransom to secure Greiner’s release. Personally, I am just thankful that he escaped alive, but paying ransoms does have significant policy implications for dealing with AQIM, so the question has real importance.

On Monday, Reuters reported talk of a payment:

Al Qaeda’s North African wing was paid a 3 million euros ($4.17 million) ransom for the release of Swiss hostage Werner Greiner, an Algerian newspaper said on Monday.

The money was transferred a few days ago and was handed to a Tuareg meddleman in northern Niger, the Arabic language daily El Khabar added, quoting an unnamed security source.

Greiner was handed over to Malian authorities in the remote north on Saturday.

The source declined to say who had paid the ransom.

Trying to track down the relevant article from El Khabar proved difficult, as the link now points to a related article (Arabic), but not the one referenced by Reuters. I was finally able to find the article itself using Google cache, but the link (Arabic) may stop working after about a week, so I’ll quote the relevant Arabic here:

أكد مصدر أمني رفيع لـ”الخبر” بأن الإفراج عن الرهينة السويسري، فرنر غرينر، الذي خطف في 22 جانفي في عمق أراضي النيجر، تم مقابل فدية مالية لا تقل عن 3 ملايين أورو، وقد تصل إلى 5 ملايين. وأشار إلى أن الأموال نقلت قبل أيام وتسلمها وسيط ترفي في منطقة البدعة شمالي النيجر.

(My rough translation: “A high security source confirmed to al-Khabar that the release of the Swiss hostage, Werner Greiner, who was kidnapped [in Niger], was completed upon the receipt of a cash ransom no less than 3 millions Euros and that may be as high as 5 million. He indicated that the money had been moved several days ago and handed over to a Tuareg (?) intermediary in [northern Niger].”)

However, Reuters reported yesterday that Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure and Swiss radio both denied a ransom had been paid. The article goes on to note that ransoms have been paid before for kidnap victims in the Sahara, but governments rarely disclose the information.

Greiner, happily, is home. But as I said before, the question of ransoms remains, in large part because this is unlikely to be the last kidnapping we see in this part of the Sahara. The argument against ransoms, I suppose, is that if Greiner’s kidnappers have walked away with 3 million Euros they will have even more resources to purchase weapons, and even more incentive to strike again. The argument for ransoms, however, is that they save lives – tragically, some have suggested that Dyer was killed because a ransom was refused. That leaves negotiators and policymakers with some very difficult choices to make in these cases.

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