Americans Kidnapped Abroad: The Forgotten Hostage Crisis


Kidnapping journalists and aid workers has become a lucrative business for militant groups in conflict-torn countries.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the 28-year-old infantryman from Idaho taken hostage by the Taliban in 2009, may finally be home and back on active duty in San Antonio. But others aren’t so lucky. Dozens of Westerners held hostage around the world, including at least eight Americans – seven in the Middle East and Africa; one in Mexico – face grim prospects for a successful return. What separates them from Bergdahl, or many of the staff journalists and full-time employees who have been captured and released, is that they lack a deep-pocketed corporation or the full force of the American government to work on their behalf.

In 2007, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and father of seven, was freelancing for the intelligence community when he was kidnapped on Iran’s Kish Island; he’s now the longest-held American hostage in history. Two years ago, 29-year-old Caitlin Coleman and her Canadian husband were taken by the Taliban while hiking in the mountains near Kabul (she’s since given birth to her first child in captivity). That same year, journalists James Foley and Austin Tice each traveled into Syria from Turkey to cover the civil war and were abducted separately by gunmen. Warren Weinstein, a 73-year-old American aid worker kidnapped by Al Qaeda in Pakistan in August 2011, has sent a handwritten note from captivity and appeared in videos posted online, but little relieves his family’s distress. “Everything is an unknown,” his daughter Alisa Weinstein says. “You feel helpless that you can’t act with the urgency that every fiber of your being tells you to act with.”

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