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Fate of American Hostages Around the World

DATE: 00-9:00 PM


..TEXT Of course, it's not only journalists who are targets of kidnappers. Twenty-five years ago, Iran agreed to free 52 American hostages after 444 days of captivity. As NPR's Libby Lewis reports, today Americans are being held against their will around the world for money, for politics and for attention.

LIBBY LEWIS: In America, November 4, 1979 was a day to remember. So were the days and the months that followed.


The U.S. Embassy in Tehran remains occupied by Iranian students demanding extradition of the Shah and a total break in relations with America. Although as many as 100 people are being held hostage, the State Department says there's no reason to panic.

LEWIS: One of those Americans was Kathryn Koob. She was the cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Today, she's 67 and living in Iowa, not so far from where she grew up. She's seen the news about Jill Carroll, about peace worker Tom Fox, and the other people who've been taken hostage in Iraq and around the world. Her first thought, of course is for them and their families.


I also am terribly disturbed that people who take hostages haven't gotten the message yet, that it doesn't work. That they, even though they've done some pretty awful executions and had the temerity to put it on international news and network, it didn't accomplish what they wanted to accomplish, and yet they continue to do it. And that bothers me, that somehow we haven't gotten the message through, that taking a hostage doesn't do anything but make a news story.

LEWIS: Iraq has dominated that news, but its not the only place Americans are being held against their will. Patrick Landry of Houston is a hostage in Nigeria. He was a ship captain for a boat that serviced Royal Dutch Shell in the Niger Delta. Eight days ago, Nigerian militants who are targeting foreign oil companies seized Landry and three others. Landry's son, Dwight, lives in Louisiana. But his heart is now with his father in Nigeria.


Believe me, I'm nervous, I'm, you know, I'm scared, I'm frustrated at times, I'm sad at times, I cry. I mean, you know, I go through all the emotions. But anything that I can do or my family can do or if we can touch someone else to do that can help us to get him back, that's what we wanna try to do.

LEWIS: The U.S. government has a hostage working group, staffed by the State Department, the FBI, the Defense Department and intelligence agencies. They follow U.S. policy on dealing with hostage takers. Negotiate, but don't concede. The government won't release the number of Americans it believes are being held hostage around the world. Mostly because of the situation in Iraq. Mark Thompson is with the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism.

MARK THOMPSON: I'll avoid talking about Iraq because I do not want to help our enemy with his accounting data.

LEWIS: He will talk about Tom Howes, Mark Gonsalves, and Keith Stansell. It's been almost three years since the three men crash landed their Cessna plane in Columbia on an anti-drug mission for the State Department.

THOMPSON: They have been held since then and that's one of those efforts that we, people like me and many others wake up everyday focusing on.

LEWIS: He said Haiti has also been a recent trouble spot, though no Americans are believed to be in captivity now. Experts say many kidnappings aren't even reported, especially those that are just for money. Kelly McCann is with the Global Security Firm, Kroll Associates.


You know, less Global scale kind of kidnappings and hostage takings never reach the light of day. They're successfully negotiated and the captive is released and some money changes hands and its almost like a cottage industry.

LEWIS: As Iraq shows, it happens to people from all over the world. But McCann says Americans are more at risk because of America's role and its footprint in the world.

Libby Lewis, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Libby Lewis
Libby Lewis is an award-winning reporter on the National Desk whose pieces on issues of law, society, criminal justice, the military and social policy can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Day to Day, Weekend Edition Saturday, and other NPR shows.