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Kidnapping around the world: Emerging hotspots

Saif Islam 2 February 2023
2 February 2023    Saif Islam

Travel Security | Special Edition 2023

In our 2023 publication we consider the key trends, statistics, and developments that have shaped the travel security landscape in the 2022, and look ahead to the coming year to set out what we feel will be the most significant issues shaping these dynamics. With international travel returning to near pre-pandemic levels against the backdrop of some notable geopolitical developments, navigating the travel security landscape remains a challenge for individuals and businesses alike.

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Saif Islam explores emerging kidnapping trends in South Africa, Lebanon, and the Philippines, and provides an outlook on how the threat is likely to manifest over the coming year.   


In 2022, the increase in criminality in 2021 amid the easing of Covid-19 restrictions has not only continued, but also worsened in some respects. The economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated existing socio-economic challenges in many countries, contributing to an increase in crimes like kidnap for ransom. While traditional hotspots such as Mexico continue to experience high numbers of incidents, new hotspots have also emerged in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, including in countries that attract large numbers of tourists and foreign travellers every year, such as South Africa, Lebanon, and the Philippines.


"The upward trend in criminality and kidnapping will persist in 2023, amid high levels of inflation and other socio-economic crises. Organised crime syndicates, terrorist groups and opportunistic criminals will predictably seek to exploit an increasingly open world, as business and leisure travel continue to recover. Many businesses are reviewing their crisis management policies and training in response to the evolving security environment."

Pete Doherty, Head of Crisis Response at S-RM


South Africa

South Africa remained the main kidnapping hotspot on the African continent in 2022. While ransom-related kidnappings only make up five percent of all abductions in the country – as most incidents are linked to robbery and hijacking – the number of cases has been increasing at an alarming rate. Retail businesspeople, their staff and family members, especially those of South Asian origin, are still the primary victims, although kidnappers have increasingly been targeting businesspeople of all nationalities. Large kidnapping syndicates remain the most sophisticated players, although many smaller copycat gangs have emerged over the past two years. These gangs are more prone to torturing their victims and releasing them for a relatively small ransom amount. The proliferation of copycat gangs in addition to increased targeting of people in low-income areas, explain the surge in incidents over the past year. Although the South African Police Service (SAPS) has successfully secured the release of several high-profile victims in 2022, the agency remains plagued by various resource gaps, including the lack of an adequate number of kidnapping-focused detectives, advanced tracking technology and intelligence capabilities. Several foreign businesspeople, especially those of Asian and African origin, have also complained that there is limited political will among the security agencies to secure victims' release. There also remain corruption-related challenges, as there have been several incidents in which police personnel have directly colluded with kidnappers.


Key facts


The average number of kidnappings reported to police in a month in the first six months of 2022, which is 60% higher than the number reported for the whole of 2019.

Most high-profile kidnappings take place in Johannesburg and Cape Town

USD 100K - 1M

The range of ransom demands for foreign business owners range from USD 100,000 to USD one million or more.



Despite increased government efforts to combat kidnapping, the threat will persist and may even intensify over the coming year, amid the country’s worsening economic situation, an overburdened police force, and victims’ families’ willingness to pay ransom.



Over the past three years, Lebanon’s complex political and economic crises have contributed to a significant increase in criminality, such as theft and robbery, while kidnap for ransom incidents appear to have surged mainly in 2022. Throughout last year, Lebanese authorities warned citizens and foreign nationals about the emergence of kidnap gangs in areas bordering Syria, although kidnapping and extortion incidents have also risen in the capital, Beirut. The primary targets are wealthy locals and foreign nationals. In many cases, these gangs have been using social media platforms to lure their victims, posing as emigration consultants before abducting them. There have also been cases of foreign nationals being lured into the country to buy property or invest in other financial schemes. Although victims are primarily held in Lebanese territory, some have been taken to Syria, as there is close cooperation between Lebanese and Syrian gangs along their shared border. The involvement of Syrian gangs makes it difficult for the authorities to arrest these suspects. While Lebanon’s worsening economic crisis remains the primary driver behind the spike in kidnappings, limited to no security presence in areas bordering Syria has also partly enabled this phenomenon. Local experts also allege that the limited number of security personnel operating in these areas are occasionally complicit in corruption, kidnapping, human trafficking, and smuggling activities.


Key facts

53 kidnapping incidents

Recorded by Lebanese authorities between 1 January and 20 April 2022

Baalbek-Hermel and Beqaa governorates are the primary hotspots

USD 100K - 1M

The range of ransom demands for foreign business owners range from USD 100,000 to USD one million or more.



Considering Lebanon’s ongoing political and economic instability, kidnap for ransom incidents are unlikely to decrease in the foreseeable future. The lack of adequate security resources to tackle this issue poses another concern, as security personnel are increasingly being deployed to protect banks amid the recent increase in armed robberies against financial institutions. 


The Philippines

In 2022, local media outlets reported a spike in kidnapping incidents in the country, although the true extent of the crisis remains uncertain as the authorities often underplay the problem, and many victims and their family members do not report incidents to police. According to official statistics, there were 31 kidnapping cases in the country from January to September 2022, compared to 36 cases in total in 2021. However, independent experts, NGOs and other stakeholders claim the actual number of cases is much higher. Contradictory statistics aside, Chinese nationals (in many cases women) remain the primary targets among foreign nationals, especially those linked to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operation (POGO) industry; other nationalities targeted include Cambodian and Vietnamese individuals. Organised criminal gangs and gambling syndicates that are part of the POGO industry are the main perpetrators, kidnapping people both for ransom and human trafficking purposes. In September 2022, the Chinese Embassy in Manila released a statement urging local authorities to protect the “legitimate rights and interests” of Chinese citizens, especially amid frequent cases of “kidnapping, blackmailing, illegal detention, and other vicious cases.”


Key facts

56 kidnapping cases

Reported by the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc (PCCII) in September 2022 alone.

Most incidents tend to occur in Metro Manila and parts of Luzon.


Recent ransom demands have ranged from USD 6,000 to USD 2 million.




While there is a long history of criminality associated with the POGO industry, newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr will likely put pressure on security agencies to clamp down on kidnapping and other crimes. However, the authorities’ tendency to underplay the extent of criminality creates a degree of uncertainty regarding the success of anti-crime measures.


S-RM is a global risk consultancy providing intelligence, resilience and response solutions to clients worldwide. To discuss this article or other industry developments, please reach out to one of our experts.

Saif Islam
Saif islam Associate, Strategic intelligence Email Saif


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