Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Kidnapping: the game angels play

The attempted kidnapping of Umaru Dikko has disappeared from the front pages of the newspapers but its ramifications continue to engage diplomatic attention. In this article, a correspondent examines cases in African political history in which kidnapping has been successful or foiled
If you spend your spare time consuming the mass of information that the media here in London regularly throws at the reading public each day, I am sure you will have been saturated by now with the news and titbits that have commanded centre pages following the bizarre incident in which a group of men, Israeli and Nigerian, tried to fly by crate to Lagos, Dr Umaru Dikko, a minister in the Shagari administration and since the coup which toppled Alhaji Shehu Shagari, one of the most wanted men in Nigeria.

If you are a political refugee in Maggie's Britain and consider yourself important enough in the scheme of things in your own country, you will then start wondering whether it is your turn next. But wait! Did you say wonder? It could well be you, depending on whether your government wants you that badly or whether "Patriotic friends of your government" intend to appease your government by presenting you as a special gift to them.

The strange operation that was played out on Porchester Road in Central London on 5 July 1984, around mid-day, humorously described as "Fly by Crate" by a satirical journal in London and the subject of so many wickedly funny cartoons, has been laughed off stage. So many people think it is a reel out of the film, Keystone Cops. It was, however, a deadly serious game, one which some governments have always played. It belongs to that category of crime which police everywhere call kidnapping and which always brings out the best in organisations such as Scotland Yard and the FBI. In fact part of the reputation that the FBI won for itself in the United States grew out of its ability to crack kidnap cases.

"Kidnapping", says the Penguin English Dictionary, "is carrying off a person by force, especially for ransom" or "stealing a person'

There have been howls of protest and expressions of moral outrage that such a thing was even attempted in Britain. But if you live in a place like Italy, the British reaction will seem rather surprising. For in Italy, kidnapping is a multi-million pound industry for the likes of the Italian Mafia.

It is known that terrorist organisations like the Red Brigade in Italy, the Baader Meinhof and the Red Army Faction in Germany have used kidnapping to swell their coffers, so, one wit observed, to wreak their vengeance on Italian and German societies for making them prosperous.

I suppose the surprise here in London is that a state may have been involved in this affair. But it must be noted that state-supported kidnaps are not new. In Africa, for example, it is regularly perpetrated. That it has not gained the attention the Dikko kidnap did here in London is because the unfortunate victims are usually "small fry" not worthy of space in papers like The Times or The Observer. Who here in London ever heard of the many that Amin abducted from Kenya. Or men called Emmanuel De Souza and Boye Moses.

The attempted kidnap of Dr Umaru Dikko is not the first time that an operation has been mounted to try and smuggle a captive from one country to another.

In 1960, Adolf Eichmann, the former Gestapo Colonel who led the Nazi extermination programme and credited with the responsibility for the extermination of six million Jews in Europe during the second world war, was smuggled out of Argentina, by an Israeli group on an El Al aircraft to Israel to face charges there.

In an audacious but well-planned operation the Israelis captured Eichmann from under the noses of the Argentines who had put surveillance on Eichmann because they had reason to suspect that he was the target of an abduction plan. After being bundled into a car, he was taken to the waiting aircraft and flown to Israel where he was tried for war crimes and hanged. The incident sparked off a major diplomatic row between Israel and Argentina, with the Argentines questioning the propriety of the Israeli action and demanding Eichmann's return and the Israelis refusing to accede to this request.

In 1964 Italian police foiled an attempt by two Egyptian diplomats to smuggle an Israeli, Mordecai Louk, by trunk to Cairo. Louk was an Egyptian spy but the Egyptians had reason to believe that he was a double agent. He was found when Italian customs officials heard noises as the trunk was being loaded into an Egyptian plane.

Not convinced by the explanation of the diplomats that the noises came from musical instruments inside the trunk, the customs officials demanded to see inside it. The Egyptians then put the trunk into a car with diplomatic plates and tried to leave the airport but after a short chase, were arrested. When the trunk was opened, Louk was found drugged inside it. It had been addressed to the Foreign Ministry in Cairo and had been specifically fitted out to contain a human body. It was suggested at the time that the Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service, had tipped off the Italians to this skulduggery by the Egyptians.

On the eve of 4 June 1979, Togolese intelligence agents came to Accra to capture one Emmanuel De Souza, a known political opponent of President Eyadema. He had fled Togo for Ghana to avoid arrest and detention. Through their contacts in Accra, they were able to locate where Souza lived. They also had an additional task to kidnap Bonito Olympio, another political opponent. Using two Ghana Police Force contacts, they "arrested" Emmanuel De Souza, bundled him into a car and drove him out of Accra.

Fortunately for them, the 4 June uprising had then broken out and the confusion that the mutiny created in Ghana and Accra especially, enabled them to drive their captive out of Accra to Lome where he was paraded before the media there and allegedly "confessed" his crimes. He was later tried and jailed for life. A simultaneous attempt on Bonito Olympio was foiled because he was tipped off to leave his house, moments before his captors surrounded his house in Ringway Estate, Accra.

The NLC (Ghana) openly glorified in the fact that it had carried out a brilliant operation and sought to use the Boye Moses affair to hint at its very long arm.

Boye Moses was one of those who accompanied Nkrumah on his ill-fated mission to Hanoi in 1966. After the 1966 coup, he chose to remain with Nkrumah in Conakry. It is said that he was used on errands by Nkrumah on the West Coast where some of Nkrumah's supporters had gathered to plot the overthrow of the NLC. Unfortunately for him, his movements on the coast were revealed to the Ghanaian intelligence agencies. The relationship then between them and those of Dahomey, now Benin and Nigeria, had, following Nkrumah's overthrow, become close. It was therefore not difficult for his movements to be followed. In an operation involving the three services, Boye Moses was "arrested" and smuggled to Ghana where he was paraded in a cage through the streets of Accra and then detained.

Colonel Lawson of the Togolese Army escaped to Accra following his alleged complicity in a plot to remove Gnasingbe Eyadema from power. The Togolese wanted him so badly that they followed him to Accra, despite the fact that his kidnap was likely to cause a diplomatic row between Accra and Lome. Information regarding the Togolese intentions reached Accra and the Ghanaians were therefore prepared to counter any snatch of the colonel. This did not deter the Togolese. The result was a running battle on the streets of Accra for a couple of days between the Ghanaians and the Togolese. In the end Lawson had to be flown out of Ghana to Paris where it was thought that he would be safe among the Togolese exile community.

The above provide a few examples of kidnaps and attempted kidnaps in which governments have been known to be involved.

An analysis of these incidents reveals that:

a. There must be a strong reason why a government will want to smuggle a person from one country to another. b. The secrecy of a kidnap operation must be preserved till the end of the operation otherwise the operation will fail.

c. Successful kidnaps have always had the support or connivance of elements within the government of the country in which the operation is being mounted. Otherwise once this is known, the attempt will be foiled. No country must be seen to be encouraging such an act.

d. The intelligence operatives of the kidnapping country in the area of operations will have to provide details of the intended victim to the last minute to enable a successful snatch to be carried out.

e. The logistics required for such an operation i.e. cars, aircraft, funds, men, local back-up support, can only be provided by a government, including the diplomatic cover that operations of this nature always seem to demand.

Before authorising such an operation, the government must carefully assess the costs of failure against the benefits of success.

It is interesting to note the reaction of governments in the cases noted above on being accused of complicity. The Israelis admitted their involvement but then justified their action on the grounds that Eichmann's actions dur- ing the war was a crime against humanity and all Jews, and that being a Jewish state, Israel was entitled to act under international law and the precedent established at the Nuremberg trials to capture and fly anyone who was wanted for war crimes. The Egyptians denied their involvement in the Rome affair and refused to make any comments even after the diplomats were expelled.

The NLC openly gloried in the fact that it had carried out a brilliant operation and sought to use the Boye Moses affair to hint at its very long arm. In the case of the Togolese, they would not even comment on what happened. They refused to indicate how and where De Souza had been arrested, only to say that he had been arrested for crimes against the state.

The aggressive tone of the Nigerian government in its reaction to reports of the Dikko kidnapping is seen in its denial of possible complicity. They seem to be following standard practice. It does appear though that the Nigerian military government thinks that by toughing it out, they will be able to win the war of nerves between Lagos and London. But anyone who has studied the British character knows that the British may appear weak and seem bumbling but one thing they will never concede to is bullying. Then their bloody mindedness shows itself in shrewd and calculating counter-moves, designed to put the bully in his proper place. The best option for the Nigerians now is to limit the damage and embarrassment that the attempted kidnap has caused, by keeping quiet. Each day that they employ aggressive tactics, the more damage is done to Nigeria's interests.

It is not easy to organise the smuggling of one person from one country. to another. The risks attendant on such an enterprise are great and the costs that exposure brings are damaging. Even in the classic case of Eichmann, the Israelis almost came near to disaster. The costs that their successful operation created for them in their relationship with Argentina were high. Most governments therefore tend to shy away from this type of operation, preferring to use overt and legal methods of getting their wanted citizens back to face the music.

It does seem, however, that there are governments in Africa, prepared to resort to such methods as kidnapping. Well, a word of caution to all of them. Next time they contemplate such exercises in Europe, they should remember it can fail and they will live to regret it. In the United States for example, kidnapping is a federal offence, punishable by death.

"Angels" play this game but as recent events have demonstrated, it can be too hot to handle.

talking drums 1984-08-06 Challenge to Siaka Stevens - Rawlings has no regrets