What about "Perdicaris alive, or Raisuli dead" as a strategy?
From The New York Times:
Millions in Ransoms Fuel Militants’ Clout in West Africa
BAMAKO, Mali — Oumar Ould Hamaha, a notorious Islamist commander in the deserts of western Africa, has nothing but disdain for the international powers he opposes or the hapless Westerners he and other militants subject to extreme deprivation, hunger, thirst and proselytizing for months on end.
But he openly appreciates them for helping Islamists acquire the one thing they cannot do without.
“Lots of Western countries are paying enormous sums to the jihadists,” he said in a telephone interview from northern Mali, crowing about the hefty ransoms militants have collected in the region. “The source of our financing is the Western countries. They are paying for jihad.”
Kidnapping is such a lucrative industry for extremists in western Africa, netting them tens of millions of dollars in recent years, that it has reinforced their control over northern Mali and greatly complicated plans for an African-led military campaign to take back Islamist-held territory.
Beyond the immediate risk to the 10 Europeans and 3 Algerians still being held — “At the first strike, the hostages will have their throats cut like chickens, one after the other,” Mr. Hamaha threatened — an intervention could face formidable opponents. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the factions that have seized northern Mali, is estimated to have amassed as much as $90 million or more in ransoms over the past decade, turning it into one of the region’s wealthiest, best-armed militant groups.
But Mali and its neighbors are still scrambling to cobble together soldiers, money and a workable plan to recapture lost ground. In fact, Mali, which is supposed to lead the international offensive against the Islamists, does not even have a stable government. On Tuesday, the nation’s prime minister resigned after being arrested by soldiers the night before, part of the continuing political disarray that allowed the Islamists to take the north in the first place.
As the United Nations debates plans for a military intervention in northern Mali, Islamists in the region appear to be on the hunt for more hostages. Three weeks ago, a French tourist was abducted in Mali and five humanitarian workers were seized in Niger in October, after a lull in kidnappings that lasted for months.
The abductions often follow the same frightening script: a sudden burst of movement, usually in the dark; guttural orders and shoves at gunpoint; then days of harsh driving deep into the desert.
The days stretch into weeks, months and even years in a sea of sand, waiting for deliverance or death. A gaunt acacia thorn-tree might be the only shade, the desert ground the only bed, and water — when it is given — often comes from a gasoline jerrycan.
“I lived through an experience that is absolutely unimaginable,” said Françoise Larribe, a Frenchwoman kidnapped in 2010 in northern Niger, where her husband was working at a uranium mine operated by the French company Areva. Her husband, Daniel, is still a captive; she was released unexpectedly after five and a half months that were “extremely tough.”
“The separation from my husband was rapid and painful,” she added.
Mr. Hamaha was with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb when he helped kidnap a Canadian diplomat, Robert Fowler, late one December afternoon in 2008 outside the capital of Niger, Niamey. Now the jihadist says he is “in charge of security” for the Malian offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Mujao, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, another of the three radical groups that control northern Mali.
The brigade commanded by Mr. Hamaha zoomed ahead of the diplomat’s car in “a slick, violent, well-coordinated and impeccably executed grab,” Mr. Fowler wrote in a new memoir, “A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda.” He and an aide were on their way to dinner in the capital.
He lived through weeks of fear, sleeping on the sand, exposed to the brutal Sahara sun, to snakes and scorpions, fed meager bowls of rice, bounced from barren desert outpost to outpost.
“I spent nearly five months terrified,” Mr. Fowler said in a recent interview. “I was terrified that it would end in a tent with a knife at my throat, and my family would see it on YouTube.”
Mr. Hamaha, his captor, who takes calls from reporters, said: “Ah yes, the Canadian that we kidnapped. I don’t regret it at all. He was in a state of being lost,” referring to what he considered the Westerner’s perilous spiritual condition. The Canadian, Mr. Hamaha said, “learned many things from us.”
During his captivity Mr. Fowler, who was the United Nations special envoy to Niger, gained perhaps the sharpest insight yet into the mentality of some of the men who now hold northern Mali. “There’s no doubt of their faith: they would sit chanting in the full Sahara sun for hour after hour.”
The man who helped negotiate Mr. Fowler’s release during months of tortuous negotiations, Moustapha Chafi, an adviser to several governments in the region, described the Islamists’ mind-set as “total fanaticism.”
Still, Mr. Fowler added: “They are realists in the sense that they understand realpolitik. They understand pressure on governments.”
Some hostages have been killed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — including a British tourist, Edwin Dyer, in 2009, and a French humanitarian worker, Michel Germaneau, in 2010 — and the kidnappers have penetrated the heart of the region’s capitals, seizing two young Frenchmen in a Niamey restaurant in early 2011. The two, in town for a wedding, were killed hours later during a failed rescue attempt.
Only a few countries, including Britain, the United States and Algeria, have publicly stated their refusal to pay ransoms to terrorists. Other European nations have a much more ambiguous attitude, evidently paying to free their citizens without admitting to it. In France, “the authorities have never officially or publicly proscribed the paying of ransoms,” stated a French parliamentary report from last March.
The report recommended that “thought be given” to a change in policy so that ransom payments stop. “Giving in to terrorists amounts to financing them, and thus supporting what they do,” it said.[how much did that report, solemnly concluding the bloomin' obvious, cost?] The report cited an Algerian estimate that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had received up to $150 million in ransoms over the last decade, a number it said was probably too high. A separate analysis by Stratfor, a private firm, put the amount at nearly $90 million.
The price of freeing Western hostages appears to be growing. “In 2010, the average ransom payment per hostage to A.Q.I.M. was $4.5 million; in 2011, that figure was $5.4 million,” David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in an October speech. He added that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had probably profited more from kidnapping than any other Qaeda affiliate.
Four of the five humanitarian workers kidnapped in October were later released — one had died of his wounds — because the Islamists had evidently been looking for a European and seized the aid workers, who were from Niger and Chad, by mistake.
Last month, there was no such error. “The bandits pointed their weapons; they took the white man away,” said Checkné Cissé, an official in Diéma, in western Mali, recounting the Nov. 20 kidnapping of a Frenchman, Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, by seven masked and turbaned gunmen.
A 61-year-old retiree, Mr. Leal was touring the area in a specially outfitted camper; he had stopped in the village and was chatting with some youths when Islamists appeared out of the darkness, Mr. Cissé said. Several days later, he surfaced on a video pleading, grim-faced, for negotiations to speed his release; two masked gunmen were on either side of him and a black Islamist flag was in the background.
With obstacles to a quick military intervention in northern Mali piling up, the desert imprisonment of the 13 hostages is both an incentive and a hindrance for Western nations.
Mr. Fowler’s experience with his captors veered unnervingly between odd formality and earnest discussion to casual brutality: the “unstable” younger members of the group did not hesitate to “put sand in our food and walk over our faces” while he and his aide, Louis Guay, slept.
While defeating the extremists militarily might not seem difficult, Mr. Fowler said, he cautioned that “we should be modest and reasonable about our expectations. I cannot conceive of the elimination of A.Q.I.M.”