How to Deal With Hostage Takers: Soviet Lessons

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By:Eugene Girin | September 02, 2014

The recent videotaped beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the bloodthirsty savages of ISIS bring to mind a story which took place in Lebanon almost 30 years ago. On September 30, 1985, a group of gunmen seized four Soviet diplomats and embassy workers (Arkady Katkov, Valery Myrikov, Oleg Spirin, and Nikolai Svirsky) in Beirut. During the kidnapping right outside the embassy, Katkov was wounded in the leg.

The abductors called themselves "The Khaled Al-Walid Force" and the "Islamic Liberation Organization". According to SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) Colonel Yuri Perfilyev, who at the time was the KGG rezident (station chief) in Lebanon, the kidnapping was orchestrated by infamous Hezbollah operative Imad "Hyena"Mugniyeh in response to an offensive by Syria-backed leftist militias in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. The Shiite radicals demanded that Moscow force Damascus to suspend the Tripoli offensive and close its embassy in Beirut. To demonstrate that they meant business, only two days after the kidnapping, Mugniyeh murdered the wounded Katkov by riddling him with machine gun bullets and left his body in a Beirut rubbish dump.

Perfilyev then met up with Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Fadlallah, then spiritual leader of Lebanese Shiites and told him: "A great power cannot wait forever. From waiting and observing, it can proceed to serious action with unpredictable consequences". Met with silence from Fadlallah, the KGB station chief spoke bluntly:

We aren't only talking about people in Beirut. I'm talking about Tehran and Qom [Shiite holy city and the residence of Ayatollah Khomeini], which is not that far from Russia's borders. Yes, Qom is very close to us and a mistake in the launch of a missile could always happen. A technical error, some kind of breakdown. They write about it all the time. And God or Allah forbid if this happens with a live, armed missile.

The visibly shaken Fadlallah responded after a moment of silence: "I think everything will turn out well". Later, his closest advisor "Hassan" (Nasrallah?) told Yuri Perfilyev that no one dared to talk to the Grand Ayatollah in such a fashion.

But the ominous threat against one of the holy cities of Shiism was only one prong in the Soviet strategy. According to Benny Morris, who was Jerusalem Post's diplomatic correspondent at that time and later became famous as a brilliant historian, in tandem with the threats, the Soviets took sharper action:

[T]he KGB kidnapped a man they knew to be a close relative of a prominent Hezbollah leader. They then castrated him and sent the severed organs to the Hezbollah official, before dispatching the unfortunate kinsman with a bullet in the brain.

In addition to presenting him with this grisly proof of their seriousness, the KGB    operatives also advised the Hezbollah leader that they knew the indentities of other close relatives of his, and that he could expect more such packages if the three Soviet diplomats were not freed immediately.

Soon thereafter, the surviving three hostages were dropped off by the Soviet embassy "from a late-model BMW that couldn't drive away fast enough" and never again was a Soviet (diplomat or otherwise) kidnapped in Lebanon. As Benny Morris put it: "This is the way the Soviets operate. They do things - they don't talk. And this is the language the Hezbollah understand." Not only Hezbollah, but ISIS and every other Muslim terror group.

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