Media is always telling us that hostage-taking terrorist can't reach their objective and they will fail. Iranian Embassy Siege failed to reach its objective, I always and always hear US soldiers saying that hostage-takers deserve to die. In Hollywood movies, US government officials always say that "United States of America won't bargain with terrorists!"

I get it, giving what they want only to encourage other terrorists to take such actions but I am sick and tired of propaganda. Here comes the big question:

Was there any terrorist operation that was successful for the hostage-taker side? And when I mean "successful" I mean reaching their objective like money, political change etc. And if they exist, I want to know if they ever made it back home or become ghosts.

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    Please define "terrorist". Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 9:37
  • @MartinSchröder The usual definition is a non-state actor employing violence to achieve political ends. "Violence" is somewhat flexible: people argue whether violent destruction of property counts. Taking hostages definitely counts. However holding hostages merely for ransom money is only kidnapping, not terrorism. Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 10:42
  • @PaulJohnson, "the usual definition" seems the opposite. The U.S. armed response on 9/11 terrorist attacks has been directed against the states of Afghanistan and Iraq. See my answer below for details. Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 16:38
  • Whoa! How is this not government policy? How is, for example the UK govt negotiating with the IRA and getting to Good Friday agreements anything but policy? Define terrorist can be whoever a government defines as such and still negotiates with. (we could do minus the movie list however) Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 20:32

4 Answers 4



In the Budyonnovsk hospital crisis Chechen separatists led by Shamil Basayev took a large number (estimates range from 1,500 to 2,500) of civilian hostages at a hospital, forcing the Russian government to agree to a cease fire and peace talks. Basayev and his men were allowed to go free as part of the deal.



Jolo 2000

On 23 April 2000, 21 hostages were taken from Sidapan, Malaysia to Jolo Island in the Philippines by a commando from the Filipino independantist group Abu Sayyaf. Later on, 13 local Evangelists and 4 Western journalists also got abducted in July.

Most of them were released after negociations in August and September, after a ransom estimated to 25 millions US$ was payed through Lybian mediation.

Libya 1999-2007

Another, more complicated case, is the "Bulgarian nurses" crisis. They were freed in 2007 after 8 and a half years of captivity in Libya in exchange for diplomatic gains granted to Gaddafi.


Was there any terrorist operation that was succesful for the hostage taker side? And when I mean ''succesful'' I mean reaching their objective like money, political change etc.

Yes. Dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar's release by the government of India is what I can think of.

From Wikipedia

In early 1994, Azhar travelled to Srinagar under a fake identity, to ease tensions between Harkat-ul-Ansar's feuding factions of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. India arrested him in February from Khanabal near Anantnag and imprisoned him for his terrorist activities with the groups.

Four years later, in December 1999, an Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC814) en route from Kathmandu in Nepal to New Delhi was hijacked and eventually landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan after being flown to multiple locations. Kandahar at that time was controlled by Taliban, which was initially thought to be on India's side, but later was suggested to be working with Pakistan's ISI. Masood Azhar was one of the three militants demanded to be released in exchange for freeing the hostages. Subsequently, Azhar was freed by the Indian government in a decision criticised by many including Ajit Doval as a "diplomatic failure". The hijackers of IC814 were led by Masood Azhar's brother, Ibrahim Athar.



In February 2014, the Russian army stood "not ahead, but behind" Crimean women and children, effectively taking them hostages to prevent Ukrainian army to stand for defending Crimea.

Russia's Putin has personally confessed this in his interview. Direct speech, YouTube video, English subbed.

The English translation happily sits at kremlin.ru, the official media outlet of Moscow's regime (highlight mine)

[…] And let’s see those troops try to shoot their own people, with us behind them – not in the front, but behind. Let them just try to shoot at women and children! I would like to see those who would give that order in Ukraine.

The operation has reached its objective. Ukrainian army did not stand up for defending Crimea, and Russia is currently (late 2020) controlling the entire peninsula:

Putin has kept his promise, and has used Ukrainian civilians as human shields throughout Russia’s invasion, partial occupation, and ongoing warfare against Ukraine. — Radio Lemberg

Stack Exchange Users' Various Definitions of Terrorism

Addressing a statement expressed in a comment claiming that the definition of "terrorism" versus "war crimes" might be different depending on who commits the act in question, be it a state or an individual.

Immediately after the September 11 attacks, the members of the United Nations General Assembly working group nearly reached consensus on the following definition of terrorism:

[Terrorism is an act] intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person; or serious damage to a State or government facility, a public transportation system, communication system or infrastructure facility ... when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing an act. (¹)

Most definitely, the definition is very clear about the case. We, the Stack Exchange users, may have our own definitions of Terrorism, but our definitions do not play at the international level.

Additionally, the accusation of Terrorism was the very background for the U.S. armed response against the states of Afghanistan and Iraq.

¹) Reference: Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism: Report of the Working Group, U.N. GAOR 6th Comm., 55th Sess., Agenda Item 164, at 39, U.N. Doc. A/C.6/55/L.2 (2000), quoted in Surya P. Subedi, The U.N. Response to International Terrorism in the Aftermath of the Terrorist Attacks in America and the Problem of the Definition of Terrorism in International Law, 4 INT'L LAW F. DU DROIT INT'L 159, 162 (2002), quoted by Michael P. Scharf's Defining Terrorism as the Peacetime Equivalent of War Crimes: Problems and Prospects.

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    What exactly is this photo supposed to be showing? Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 8:46
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    If this was the Russian army then they were state actors, not terrorists (see my comment at the top). What you describe would be a war crime, but not terrorism. Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 10:43
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    The answer above quotes Putin, so it seems unlikely that they are operating independently of the Russian state. Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 11:09
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    Unfortunately a literal reading of the UN text you quote would suggest that all military action in time of war would fall under this definition. So its pretty certain that your source has not bothered to include a qualification. Non-state actor is one I've seen used, "Criminal act" is another that keeps cropping up, but I find that problematic because it needs an international definition of "criminal". Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 18:56
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    "I''m a freedom fighter, you're a guerilla, he's a terrorist". Was that "Yes Minister"? Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 19:05

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