Publicity stunt: ISIS’s $200m ransom demand

January 27, 2015

Ransom demands by jihadist groups for the release of Western hostages have been averaging about $8 million per hostage over the last couple years. The $200 million recently demanded by ISIS to spare the lives of two Japanese captives was 12 times higher than the going rate. The $200 million amount also coincides with the amount of money that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had just offered in aid to Middle Eastern countries fighting ISIS, and ISIS has as much as said that their demand is tit-for-tat. Thirdly, this is the first public demand for ransom by ISIS representing a departure from their standard practice of demanding dollar figures through back channels.  Lastly, one of the hostages has probably already been killed, suggesting that ISIS never intended to offer enough time for Japan to negotiate further much less actually deliver the money.

For these reasons, it is far likelier that the $200 million ransom demand was more symbolic than serious, and that ISIS probably never expected to cash in on this demand. Why not?  Eugenio Lilli offers an explanation to The Telegraph:

…In the context of this struggle for influence, Isil’s new strategy of demanding a costly ransom could be partly explained as an escalation of the propaganda war after gunmen reportedly affiliated to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) killed 12 people in an attack against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The Charlie Hebdo attack gave al-Qaeda huge international exposure. An explicit request for a ransom could be Isil’s attempt to make the news and regain some lost terrain…

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