There’s nothing more terrifying than a hostage situation. Being held prisoner is probably one of the worst experiences imaginable, and I can only imagine what these people must have felt when they were captured. These kinds of instances are all too common these days, and while we’ve seen some pretty nasty hostage situations in the past, it seems like the most devastating ones are those that have happened within the last few years.
With the rise of ISIS, we can only assume that these kinds of attacks are going to continue – unless of course we deal with these kinds of groups. Hostage situations present a very unique challenge for those governments facing them. How do they deal with the terrorists without getting the hostages killed? As you will read, some of the tactics the governments have come up with are more successful than others. One mistake and hundreds of innocent people will lose their lives. While it’s easy to blame the military forces and the governments tasked with dealing with these attacks, one must remember that it’s actually the terrorists who are to blame at the end of the day.
15. July 2016 Dhaka Attack
This recent hostage crisis in Bangladesh left 22 civilians dead, as well as 2 police officers. 5 out 6 of the attackers were also killed. It all started when militants attacked a bakery in a rich part of the city of Dhaka, armed with pistols, machetes, and crude bombs. They immediately took about 20 to 60 hostages. The Dhaka Police tried to get control of the situation, but two police officers were shot as they tried to intervene. The Bangladeshi armed forces later got involved, smashing an Armored Personnel Carrier through the wall of the bakery.
Although 5 of the hostage takers were shot in the ensuing gunfight, one of the bakery’s chefs was mistaken for one of the attackers, and was killed by the soldiers. This militant group targeted non-Muslims specifically, and hostages were spared if they could recite a verse from the Quran. Many Italian and Japanese tourists were killed, and one of the Japanese women was pregnant. The attackers belonged to the Islamic militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen.
14. Manila Hostage Crisis
The Manila Hostage Crisis in 2010 went down in history as one of the most brutal ever, and resulted in 8 hostage being killed. It all started when Rolando Mendoza, a disgruntled former police officer, took control of a tour bus that held 25 people. Everything went downhill when Mendoza’s brother tried to get him to stand down, and was later arrested by police because he didn’t have the authority to assist in the negotiation efforts. Mendoza was able to watch his brother get arrested from a television inside the tour bus. He demanded the release of his brother, and then began shooting hostages. He first shot the tour guide, and then shot a few other hostages who tried to rush him. Then the bus driver escaped, and told the police teams outside that everyone inside was dead. This wasn’t far from the truth. Mendoza had begun shooting every single passenger in the head. Only a few survived. Finally, they were able to force Mendoza to leave by throwing in tear gas grenades, and he was shot in the head by snipers.
13. Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis
In 2002, 30 to 40 armed Chechens seized control of a theater in Moscow, taking 850 hostages. The attack left 170 people dead, 133 of which were hostages. The militants wanted an end to the Second Chechen War. The hostage crisis lasted many days. After two days, two female hostages were killed. This led the Spetsnaz (Russian Special Forces) soldiers to pump an unknown chemical gas into the theater ventilation shafts. This proved to be a very bad decision. The gas killed an unbelievable amount of people. Of the 133 hostages that died, only two had died from causes other than poisoning from the gas. To this day, no one knows what that gas was exactly, but some think it was an opiate-based chemical. From the perspective of the Russian hostages, the rescue operation was a complete failure, as it ended in the deaths of over a hundred of them. But from the point of view of the Spetsnaz, the operation was a resounding success, since none of their soldiers died, and all of the attackers were killed.
12. Beslan School Siege
In 2004, School Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia was assaulted by Chechen and Ingush terrorists, who took over 1,100 people hostage. About 777 of those hostages were children, and by the end of this hostage crisis over 385 people were killed, 334 of which were hostages. Many organizations have criticized Russia’s handling of the crisis, claiming that they used excessive lethal force which resulted in the deaths of many hostages. It’s hard to refute these claims, since Russian forces used tanks and rockets among other heavy weapons.
The hostage takers were also equally vicious. They shot people who refused to follow directions, and also executed 15 of the strongest male teachers and fathers almost immediately. Soon enough, hostages that were held in the school gymnasium were told to lie down, and they were all shot by their attackers’ automatic rifles. Only one survived. But what killed the most hostages was the gym roof collapsing because of an explosion. It is unknown what caused the explosion, but many believe it was actually the Russian forces firing on the terrorists. The Russians then started firing rockets at the school, as well as assaulting it with armored personnel carriers and tanks. Over one hundred hostages were shot by Russian forces because they were being used as human shields by the terrorists, being forced to stand in front of the windows of the cafeteria.
Finally, the Russians took control of the school, although at that point there wasn’t much of it left. So many people died that the local cemetery wasn’t big enough to bury them all. An adjacent plot of land had to be dug up, and hundreds of people were buried in a mass grave.
11. November 2015 Paris Attacks
One hostage crisis that is fresh in our memories is the 2015 Paris Attack. The hostage situation was only one part of a much larger attack on Paris, which included suicide bombings and mass shootings throughout the city. Hostages were taken at the Bataclan theater, and 89 people were killed there. Three men opened fire on the concert-goers and also threw grenades at them. After the initial killings, the attackers took 60 to 100 people hostage inside the theater. They threatened to behead a hostage every five minutes. After reports that the attackers were executing hostages, police raided the theater. The attackers all died, either by blowing themselves up, shooting themselves, or being shot by police. Some of the victims’ bodies found at the theater were horribly mutilated, with some people showing signs of castration, disembowelment, sexual abuse and torture, and eyes being gouged out.
10. Budyonnovsk Hospital Hostage Crisis
Another devastating incident was the Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis in 1995. Chechen separatists took 1,500 to 1,800 people hostage, and at least 105 of those hostages died. The separatists attacked the small Russian city of Budyonnovsk, and after Russian reinforcements arrived, the Chechens retreated to the city’s hospital, where they took hostages. When the Russians didn’t take their demands seriously, they immediately started executing hostages. The Spetsnaz once again attacked the hospital head on, and many hostages were killed in the crossfire. They tried 3 separate assaults, all of which resulted in more and more deaths. The hostages that were later released were furious with the Russian government for ordering a full frontal assault on the hospital. The actual number of civilian deaths is unknown, as some independent researchers say it was over 166 people.
9. Iranian Embassy Siege
One of the most well-known hostage crises that took place was at the Iranian embassy in London during the spring of 1980. Although it was a devastating attack, this crisis is seen as a textbook example of how to do deal with a hostage situation. This is largely because only two hostages died. 26 people were taken hostage at the Iranian embassy in London by 6 armed members of an Iranian militant group. By the fifth day, British police had managed to secure the release of 5 hostages. On the sixth day, the attackers grew impatient and killed one of the hostages, throwing his body out of the action. The SAS (British Special Forces) was quickly mobilized, and assaulted the building through the rooftop. One hostage was executed as soon as the team entered, but the SAS managed to save everyone else. They killed 5 of the hostage takers and captured the last one. This is a clear contrast to many other hostage situations on this list, where civilian lives could not be saved.
8. The Munich Massacre
Another extremely well-known hostage situation was the Munich Massacre. It’s known as one of the worst terrorist attacks in Olympic history, and 12 hostages (11 members of the Israeli Olympic team and one German police officer) were executed. None were rescued. Two hostages were killed almost as soon as the attackers entered the building. Negotiators first attempted to offer the hostage takers substantial amounts of money, but what they really wanted was the release of several prisoners held in Israel and Germany. Many of the other rescue attempts failed, including a police assault on the building. Since there was a television in the room, the hostage takers could see the police preparing for the assault, and ordered them to stand down.
The attackers were finally able to get transport to an airport, where police were waiting. Inside the plane that was supposed to take them to Cairo, there were 16 German police officers disguised as flight crew. They were supposed to overpower the terrorists as they checked the plane, but at the last minute they voted to abandon the plan. When the terrorists found the plan empty, they realized it was a trap. Snipers opened fire on the terrorists, but could not kill the leader. The terrorists then opened fire on the hostages, killing all of them.
7. The Ma’alot Massacre
In 1974, Palestinian terrorists entered Israel and took 115 people hostage at Netiv Meir Elementary School. 105 of those were children, and in the end over 25 hostages were killed. As soon as the terrorists took control of the school, many of the teachers jumped out of the windows, abandoning their students to their fate. The rescue attempt by Israeli special forces was somewhat of a failure, as many of the students were executed when the special forces team stormed the building. One of the three special forces teams threw a smoke grenade, which blinded the other teams. When cornered, the terrorists opened fire on the children, and threw grenades into the crowds of sitting students. Almost 70 children were also injured by the fighting. Lessons learned from this incident were put to good use in the future by the Israeli military’s new special forces doctrines.
6. 2005 Nalchik Raid
The raid on the city of Nalchik in 2005 was part of the Second Chechen War, and it resulted in some hostages being taken. Militants targeted buildings associated with the Russian Security Forces. On the second day of hostilities, a group of mostly wounded gunmen were cut off and isolated in captured buildings. These gunmen held several police and civilians hostage. Although 14 civilians died in the conflict, Russian sources claim that not a single hostage held by these wounded gunmen lost their life. It’s unclear whether this was due to the actions of Russian forces, or whether the militants simply released them. This was a decisive victory for the Russian forces, although the fighting was fierce. By the end of the day, the streets were littered with bodies and gore.
5. Palace Of Justice Siege
One of the most devastating hostage situations in history was the Palace of Justice Siege of 1985 in Colombia. A Marxist group took the entire supreme court hostage, and by the end of the siege almost half of the 25 Supreme Court Justices were dead. In total, the militants took about 300 people hostage, including 25 supreme justices and 20 other judges. 3 hours into the attack, the army was able to rescue about 200 hostages. In the final assault, a further 100 people died, including hostages, army soldiers, and Marxist militants. After this devastating attack, the Colombian Army created a specialized anti-terror force to deal with this kind of attack in the future. There were also allegations that Pablo Escobar paid the Marxist group to assault the Palace of Justice in order to destroy criminal records.
4. EgyptAir Flight 648
In 1985, EgyptAir flight 648 was hijacked by Palestinian militants. The three gunmen were heavily armed with grenades and rifles. The Egyptian Security agent on board tried to fight back against the gunmen, but was wounded after he killed one of the militants. The exchange of fire tore holes in the fuselage, causing the plane to depressurize. The aircraft had to descend to 4,000 feet so that everyone could breath. They then made an emergency landing in Malta. Surrounded by Maltese soldiers, the plane wasn’t going anywhere. The gunmen released 11 hostages, and then started executing the rest. An Egyptian anti-terror team was called in to help, and they assaulted the plane without letting anyone else know. No one knows what caused the explosion, but fires began on board the plane, killing 54 of the remaining 87 passengers. In total, 58 of the passengers died. This is widely regarded as an example of a hostage rescue gone completely wrong.
3. Pan Am Flight 73
Another flight which resulted in a devastating hostage situation was Pan Am Flight 73 in 1986. Of the 360 passengers, 43 died. The hijackers managed to get past airport security by driving a jeep that was modified to look like an airport vehicle, as well as wearing airport security uniforms. They boarded the plane but the pilot, copilot, and flight engineer were able to escape immediately. Things started to get bad when the gunmen shot one passenger in the head and threw his body out of the plane as a warning. When the plane lost power, one hijacker got desperate and attempted to shoot the explosive belt that another hijacker was wearing. His aim was to kill himself and everyone on board, but he missed slightly and only caused a small explosion. This caused the other hijackers to open fire on the hostages, and throw their grenades. 20 people died in this onslaught, but a large number of hostages were able to escape. The militants were captured after they ran out of ammo, but were still firing on the hostages until their last rounds were used up.
2. Kizlyar-Pervomayskoye Hostage Crisis
The Kizlyar-Pervomayskoye Hostage Crisis was another devastating incident that happened during the First Chechen War in 1996. It started off as an assault on an airbase in Kizlyar by Chechen forces, but quickly deteriorated into a hostage crisis when they retreated into the town of Kizlyar and took thousands of people hostage. The next day, all except 120 hostages were released, and the Chechens were allowed to safely retreat back into Chechnya, or so they thought. Their convoy of 13 vehicles was attacked by a Russian helicopter, and the convoy sought refuge in another town, called Pervomayskoye. There they took an additional 100 hostages. At some point the Russians declared that the Chechens had executed all of the hostages, which allowed them to assault the town head on. But the hostages were still alive. After hellish fighting, the Chechens escaped the town, taking the hostages with them. They managed to fight through Russian lines, and some of the hostages were killed in the crossfire. In the end, the Chechens still claimed to hold 60 hostages, which they took back with them into Chechnya. These hostages were later freed as part of an exchange with the Russians, although 26 hostages died in the fighting.
1. In Amenas Hostage Crisis
In 2016, Al-Qaeda linked terrorists attacked a gas facility in In Amenas, Algeria. They took around 800 prisoners, mostly workers at the facility, and 39 foreign hostages were killed. 32 militants from Libya entered Algeria and attacked the gas facility. When they raided the facility, they specifically targeted foreigners. A British citizen was immediately killed. Other foreigners were shot as they tried to run, or captured and forced to wear explosive vests. On the 17th of January, the terrorists drove to meet other terrorists who were nearby. They were intercepted by Algerian special forces and killed. The next day, the terrorists blew up a bomb at the facility, killing many of the hostages. The dead hostages came from many different countries, including Britain, Japan, Norway, and many others.