August 1, 1985: Kidnapping off the coast of Libya

On this day in 1085, three European hostages were seized in the Mediterranean by Abu NIdal terrorists and were not freed until almost five years later.

Kidnapping must be an ordeal: imagine being held for almost five YEARS!

SOMEWHERE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN — I would be surprised if you had never heard of the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. It is a phrase in psychology that is used to describe a situation where hostages or abuse victims bond with their captors or abusers. It can develop over the course of the days, weeks, months, or even years of captivity or abuse.

The use of this term stems from a hostage taking in Stockholm (Sweden) in 1973 when two men held four people for 6 days after a bank robbery. After the hostages were released, they refused to testify against their captors and even began raising money for their defence. So when hostages develop an emotional or psychological connection to the people who held them in captivity we call them by this term.

If being held against your will for a little less than a week can lead to feelings for your freedom takers, just imagine what five years would do!

On this day in 1985

On this day in 1985 three Europeans, a French woman, her Belgian boyfriend and their 2-year-old daughter, were captured on their boat in the Mediterranean Sea south of Israel by ‘commandos’ believed to be part of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah, led by Abu Nidal.

In the 1980s there was no single terrorist more famous, or perhaps more infamous is a better word, than Abu Nidal. He seemed to be everywhere, involved in kidnappings and terrorist attacks all in the pursuit of ‘justice’ for the Palestinians. His eponymous organisation was listed by the US State Department as a ‘foreign terrorist organisation way back in 1997 (and only ‘delisted’ in 2017).

But let us return to our hostages. Jacqueline Valente, 32, Fernand Houtekins, 42, and their daughter, Sophie, were kept by their captors for five years and only released on April 10, 1990. Their freedom followed  an appeal for compassion last week by Libya’s leader, Col. Moammar Qadafi (remember HIM?). A second child, born in captivity, died in captivity.

How does one recover from nearly five years as a prisoner of a terrorist group? Great question, and one I hope never to have to answer.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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