Talking to Terrorists

by Brian Michael Jenkins

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Abstract

A discussion of the processes and problems of communicating with terrorists during diplomatic kidnapping incidents. Governments must communicate not only with the kidnappers, but also with other governments, news media, constituents, and the families of the hostages. Some governments prohibit direct communication with kidnappers, so intermediaries must be used, or the kidnappers may attempt to deal directly with hostages' families. Families' concern with hostage safety may make them willing to offer concessions, exert pressure on the government, or publicly criticize officials for "abandoning" the victims. Terrorists also have many audiences for their communications--their opponents, perceived constituents, the local population, other potential targets, other terrorists--and a different message is aimed at each. Because most messages are public, their content is often confusing and conflicting. Nine general principles for improving the effectiveness of communications with terrorists are suggested.

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