How to Survive a Kidnapping

The two Fox journalists recently kidnapped in Gaza are just the latest in a growing campaign targeting journalists, according to the International News Safety Institute.

Since 2004, 41 journalists have been kidnapped. The institute is in the midst of a global inquiry to explain the upward spiral. But the organization's director, Rodney Pinder, said several reasons have already become clear. Chief among them, the world "has become increasingly polarized," said Pinder.

"Reporters are no longer seen as detached elements. It's a 'you're either with us or against us' mentality," Pinder said.

The seemingly random kidnappings of journalists have left many reporters wondering whether they could be next. Journalists are trained in how to avoid becoming targets of kidnappers. Almost all reporters attend some sort of safety training before heading to a war zone.

Among the tips the institute teaches in its intensive training seminars to foreign journalists and in the long list of tips it has published on its Web site are: Do not move alone in a conflict zone; use a safe and reliable driver; meet unfamiliar contacts in public places; tell your office or trusted colleagues your plans; and dress as an average citizen.

But even taking these cautionary steps is no guarantee against being.

When Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll went to a scheduled interview with a Sunni police officer, she wore a black hijab that hid her hair and Western clothes. She set up the meeting in an office in a neighborhood that was not on the "no go" list in Baghdad. She had even been to the office before. And she relied on both a translator and a longtime driver with the Monitor.

But when they left the office, they were blocked very quickly by a truck full of men pointing guns at them who then took Carroll. But it's what she did after the kidnapping that may have saved her life.

In a first person story for the Monitor, she talked about her attempt to connect with her captor.

"I was eager to make him like me and feel I was sympathetic to him, so much so that I began using more of my Arabic," she wrote. "He and the others marveled at how much of their language I seemed to have picked up in one day. ... I showed interest in learning."

"What Jill Carroll did was absolutely the right thing," said Mark Whyte, with Pilgrim's group, a security risk management company that trains journalists, including those from ABC, who will be working in hostile regions.

Whyte said the key to surviving any kidnapping is to get your captors to begin to see you as a human being.

"If you can eat with the captors, share their food," said Whyte, "all these things build up the human side and make it more difficult to harm you."

Whyte said talking about your family, even your religion, can draw your captors in.

"They are more interested and have more respect for someone with religious views," Whyte said. They may angrily argue in support of their beliefs over yours, but "they are not antagonized by someone with strong Christian beliefs," he said.

Certainly, that's what Carroll found, as her captors were "eager to show similarities between Islam and Christianity." She said she listened as they told her "how many stories from the Bible are in the Koran."

Whyte said his firm trains journalists on the "shock of capture."

"One moment you're free to do what you like, the master of your own destiny, and the next, you're under the control of someone else," Whyte said. He explained in the training that the best reaction is to acquiesce, "go with the flow because you don't want to antagonize your kidnappers."

Whyte acknowledged that journalists "can never really prepare 100 percent for what's going to happen them," and his goal is to give them awareness and survival techniques, including accepting food and water when offered, not to refuse out of some defiance.

The family of Olaf Wiig, the Fox cameraman who was one of the two kidnapped in Gaza, is hopeful he can survive his captivity. His brother, Sven Wiig, calls him "a very practical person."

"He has been through hostile and survival environments. ... He's a clear thinker, so I'm sure he would be all right," Sven Wiig said.

Pinder, with INSI, said the survival of kidnapped journalists depends more on the motive of the kidnappers than anything else. He said if the kidnappers are trying to make a political point, or are doing it for ransom, they will often release their captives, but if it's done to censor the news, "to shut up a journalist," as Pinder said, then they're often killed.

Former hostage Terry Anderson, who was kidnapped in 1985 in Beirut when working as a correspondent for The Associated Press, said the situation in the Middle East is different than it was in the mid-1980s, and so are the kidnappings.

Anderson, who works for the Committee to Protect Journalists, which helps foreign correspondents in danger, said that back then, the kidnappers would often keep their captors a long time. Anderson was in captivity for almost seven years before he was released in 1991.

He wrote about his ordeal in "Den of Lions," where he detailed how he survived. He, too, appealed to his captors over their faith and tried to make a human connection.

"I would ask them if God tells them that they are allowed to harm another human being," he wrote. The guard never answered his question and usually then apologized for the way they were treating him.

Security expert Mark Whyte believes there is "a greater incidence of journalists targeted" now because they are viewed as "party to the conflict, as Western media representing a Western view of what's going on." Whether or not a kidnapped journalist survives depends on his or her training and the captors themselves, he said.