For as long as men have been at each other’s throats they have been taking hostages. Although these days the standard response of most governments is that they do not negotiate with terrorists (the primary party responsible for international hostage scenarios in the world today), it doesn’t stop those with agendas from trying to twist politics in their favor through coercion. Here are the 25 most intense hostage situations ever.
On January 29, 2013 Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65-year old Vietnam War veteran hijacked a Dale County school bus and killed its driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr. He also took Ethan, a five-year old student from Midland Elementary School as a hostage. Dyke’s bunker, where he stored some homemade bombs, was equipped with a ventilation pipe used as a mode of communication and to pass through toys, books and medications for Ethan. The crisis came to an end on 5 days later when officers forced through the bunker, killing Dyke and finally freeing Ethan.
Our lady of Salvation, a Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq was attacked on October 31, 2010 during a Sunday evening mass by an al-Qaeda-linked Sunni rebel group. The attack left 58 people dead, while more than 100 people were taken as hostages, 19 of whom were able to escape before Iraqi Special Forces stormed the church to rescue them. Backed by American aerial support, the 4-hour siege resulted in the death of 41 hostages.
The crisis, which ensued on September 1, 2010 at the company’s headquarters in Silver Springs, Maryland, started when James Lee took three people as hostages in the building’s lobby. Armed with two starter pistols and an explosive device, 43-year old Lee began by firing a single round at the lobby’s ceiling. After 4 hours of lockdown, evacuation, and negotiations, Lee was shot dead by the police.
Commonly known as the “Munich Massacre,” this crisis took place during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Bavaria in Germany where 11 Israeli team athletes were taken as captives and eventually killed, along with a German officer. Perpetrated by the Palestinian Group ‘Black September,’ they demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli prison. Eight of the terrorist’s members were killed during the failed rescue attempt with three surviving assassins captured. Israel responded with ‘Operation Spring of Youth’ and ‘Operation Wrath of God,’ where they tracked down and killed all the Palestinians who were suspected to be involved in the massacre.
This two-day hostage-taking situation involved 115 people, where 105 of them were children. It took place on May 15, 1974 when three armed Palestinian radicals of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine entered Israel from Lebanon. Most of the hostages were teenagers on a field trip and spending a night in Ma’alot in the Netiv Meir Elementary School. The hostage-takers demanded the release of 23 Palestinian militants from Israeli prisons or the students would be killed. When the Golani Brigade stormed the building after two days, the hostage-takers killed their hostages with grenades and automatic weapons ending in the death of 28 hostages, including 22 children.
Patricia Hearst Shaw, an American newspaper heiress, socialite, and occasional actress was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in 1974. The granddaughter of self-made millionaire George Hearst and daughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst gained notoriety when she eventually joined in the causes of her captors. Because of this when she was apprehended with other SLA members while robbing a bank she was imprisoned for two years before her sentence was commuted. She was later granted a presidential pardon by President Bill Clinton as her actions were attributed to the Stockholm syndrome, where captives sympathize with their captors.
A diplomatic crisis between the countries of Iran and the United States, it escalated when a group of Islamist students invaded the American embassy in support of the Iranian revolution. They took 52 US diplomats hostage for 444 days on November 4, 1979 until January 20, 1981, just a few minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the new US president. When a number of negotiations for release failed, the US military attempted a rescue operation called ‘Operation Eagle Claw’ on April 24, 1980, but this resulted in an aborted mission, crash of two aircrafts, and the death of 8 American servicemen and an Iranian civilian. The crisis ended with the signing of the Algiers Accord on January 19, 1981, after which the hostages were finally released.
A native of Joliet, Illinois, Father Jenco was serving as director of the Catholic Relief Services when he was taken hostage by five armed Shiite Muslims in Beirut on January 1985 for 564 days. While confined, he spent his days meditating, praying, and by making a rosary out of a thread of a sack. He was a captive along with other hostages, including tennis player Terry Anderson. He suffered greatly during this incident as he spent much time chained and blindfolded, including suffering serious eye infections and other health problems, and though he suffered beatings from the guard and other inhumane acts, in the end, he chose to forgive those who mistreated him.
Terry Anderson, the famous tennis player held captive with Father Jenco, was the last hostage accounted for on December 4, 1991. A family reunion followed and the world watched as he saw his daughter who was born three months after his capture for the first time.
An English humanitarian and author, he was an assistant for the Anglican Communion Affairs when he negotiated for the release of four hostages including journalist John McCarthy as an emissary for the Church of England. He traveled to Lebanon on January 20, 1987 to negotiate with the Islamic Jihad Organization, but was also himself held captive for 1,763 days from 1987 to 1991 when the group broke trust.
This systematic series of abductions in Lebanon involved 96 foreign nationals being taken as captives between 1982 and 1992. Those who committed these crimes used different names though they all belonged to the same Hezbollah organization. These terrorist acts were viewed as “insurance against retaliation by the US, Syrian, and other forces.” Casualties included 230 Americans and 58 Frenchmen who they thought were responsible for the Marine barracks and embassy bombings in Beirut.
This crisis occurred during the First Chechen War when a raid made by guerillas against a military airbase became a massive hostage crisis that involved thousands of civilians. The assault, which destroyed 3 helicopters and killed 33 personnel and other soldiers, led the Russian military to pursue the Chechen guerrillas, who entered the town itself and took 2,000 to 3,400 civilian hostages. Fighting ensued and the rebels then fled to Pervomayskoye in a column of 11 buses and 2 trucks where they seized an additional 100 hostages from the village. Because the Russian army did not permit journalists access to the village, it is hard to determine the full extent of civilian casualties.
This hostage crisis on the night of September 20, 1991 at Alta View Hospital in Sandy, Utah by Richard Worthington stemmed from his attempt to kill Dr. Glade Curtis, who performed a tubal ligation on his wife. Armed with a shotgun, handgun, and dynamite, which he planted on the hospital grounds, he entered the hospital’s Women Center and took 2 nurses, 3 people, and 2 newborns as hostages for 18 hours. One nurse, Karla Roth, wound up dead and Richard was sentenced to 35 years in prison, though he committed suicide on November 11, 1993.
On May 1, 1992, Eric Houston barged into his former school in Olivehurst, California armed with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and sawed off .22 caliber rifle, killing a teacher and 3 students, while wounding 9 others. He held over 80 hostages in an eight-hour standoff before surrendering to the police.
On April 4, 1991, four young Vietnamese refugees barged into the Good Guys! Electronic store in Sacramento, California, after a botched robbery. The largest hostage rescue operation on American soil, it involved over 50 hostages held at gunpoint for about 8 hours. Armed with three pistols and a shotgun, they killed three hostages and injured 14. However, three of the suspects, ages 17 to 21, were killed, while the fourth one was captured by the authorities.