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10 intense hostage situations from the past

December 15, 2014 12:46 IST
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An armed gunman on Monday took several people hostage at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney and forced 2 people to hold what appeared to be a black flag bearing Islamic slogans written in Arabic in the store's window.

The incident triggered a security alert in Australia as authorities sealed off surrounding streets, evacuated people from buildings, and suspended rail services following the incident. lists a few other dramatic and frightful hostage situations that sent governments and security agencies into a tizzy.

Westgate shopping mall attack

A mother and her children hide from gunmen at Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi. Photographs: Siegfried Modola/Reuters

The 4-day siege by Al-Shabab terrorists on the upmarket Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya claimed 67 lives including that of 3 Indians.

Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab militants laid siege on the mall throwing grenades as they asked all Muslims to flee the scene. The group's members in Somalia later claimed responsibility for the attack condemning Kenya for its military operations in Somalia.

The attack is the deadliest terrorist assault in Kenya since Al Qaeda bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, leaving over 200 people dead.

Four Indians, including two women and a girl, were among nearly 200 people injured in the attack on the part Israeli-owned Westgate centre. At least 11 Kenyan troops were also wounded in the clashes.

In Amenas

Rescue workers carry the coffin of one of the hostages killed during a hostage crisis in a gas plant at the hospital in In Amenas. Photographs: Ramzi Boudina/Reuters

On January 16, 2013, Al Qaeda-linked terrorists affiliated with a brigade led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar took more than 800 people hostage at the Tigantourine gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria.

After 4 days, the Algerian special forces raided the site, in an effort to free the hostages.

The standoff resulted in the death of 39 foreign hostages along with an Algerian security guard, with 29 dead from the terrorist group.

A total of 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners were freed.


Members of the Special Weapon and Tactics team assault a tourist bus, after former police officer Rolando Mendoza took tourists in the vehicle hostage. Photographs: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

A disgruntled former Philippine National Police officer Rolando Mendoza hijacked a tourist bus in Rizal Park, Manila in the Philippines on August 23, 2010.

The bus carried 25 people, 20 tourists, a tour guide from Hong Kong, and four local Filipinos.

Rolando Mendoza felt he had been unfairly dismissed and wanted his job back. Things took a turn for the worse when he saw his brother being arrested, which incited him to open fire. 

Mendoza and 8 of the hostages were killed and several others injured following a 90-minute gun battle.

The police department’s failure at a rescue attempt was watched worldwide on television and the internet.

Beslan school attack

Russian Interior Ministry officers carry two boys after they were released from the school seized by heavily armed masked men and women in the town of Beslan. Photographs: Reuters

The Beslan school siege that started on September 1, 2004, at School Number One (SNO) a Russian town in Beslan, lasted 3 days and involved the capture of over 1,100 people as hostages including 777 children. It resulted in the death of 385 people.

The crisis began when a group of armed Islamic terrorists, occupied the school demanding recognition of the independence of Chechnya at the UN and Russian withdrawal from Chechnya.

Russian security forces stormed the building on the third day of the standoff with their tanks and incendiary rockets resulting in the deaths of over 380 people.

The Munich Olympic tragedy

One of the terrorists at the Munich Olympic Village September 5, 1972.

During the 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich in West Germany, 11 Israeli Olympic team members were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian group Black September.

The Palestinian Group had demanded the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli prison. Eight of the terrorist’s members were killed during the failed rescue attempt with 3 surviving assassins captured. 

Israel responded to killings by tracking down and killing all the Palestinians who were suspected to be involved in the massacre.

Discovery communications hostage crisis

A police robot sits on the plaza outside the lobby of the Discovery Communications building after a gunman was shot and killed. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On September 1, 2010, James J Lee, armed with 2 starter pistols and an explosive device, took 3 people hostage inside of the Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, prompting an evacuation of the building.

The building was placed on lockdown and most of the 1,500 employees were evacuated. 

After 4 hours of lockdown, evacuation, and negotiations, Lee was shot dead by the police.

2010 Baghdad church massacre

Iraqi policemen stand guard outside the Catholic cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, where gunmen killed 52 in October, in Baghdad. Photograph: Reuters

An attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic cathedral of Baghdad in Iraq on October 31, 2010, left at least 58 people dead, after more than 100 had been taken hostage.   

The church attack took place during the Sunday evening Mass by Al Qaeda-linked Sunni insurgent group the Islamic State of Iraq. The 4-hour siege ended after backed by American aerial support Iraqi Special Forces stormed the church to rescue the hostages. 41 hostages were killed in the attack.

Alabama bunker hostage crisis

A pipe where negotiators communicated with Jimmy Lee Dykes who held a five-year old boy hostage in an underground bunker is shown in this handout photo released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Photograph: Reuters

A hostage crisis that lasted almost 7 days began in the Wiregrass Region in Midland City, Alabama on January 29, 2013.

Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65-year-old Vietnam War-era veteran boarded a Dale County school bus, killed the driver, and took a 5-year-old boy 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. 

On the afternoon of February 4, law enforcement agents entered the bunker, killed Dykes, and rescued the child.

Operation Janbaz

Pakistani Army soldiers sit on vehicles as they leave their headquarters. Photograph: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

The Pakistan Army General Headquarters attack, was a hostage-rescue mission carried by SSG Division during which, on 10 October 2009.

Ten gunmen in military uniforms open fired on the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, Pakistan where the attack killed 9 soldiers and 2 civilians.

The militants later on infiltrated the security buildings where 22 civilian and military officials were held hostage.

The Pakistan Army launched a hostage rescue operation led by the SSG Division, Army Special Forces and the 13th Regular Regiment.

Iran Hostage Crisis

Iranians burn an American flag on the anniversary of the hostage crisis. Photograph: Majid/Reuters

A diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States led to the 52 American diplomats and citizens being held hostage for 444 days (November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981) by after a group of Iranian students.

When negotiations failed, the US military attempted a failed rescue operation on April 24, 1980, which resulted in an aborted mission, crash of two aircraft, 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 released.

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