Strategic hostage taking

Impact 5
risk indicator
ID 5
Risk theme Terrorism
Impact & Likelihood
Impact key
5 Catastrophic
4 Significant
3 Moderate
2 Limited
1 Minor
Likelihood key
5 >25%
4 5-25%
3 1-5%
2 0.2-1%
1 <0.2%


Strategic hostage taking can be characterised as an incident in which subject(s) are held and/or threatened, in order to fulfil terms and conditions of the attacker(s), who may hold political or ideological motivations. Hostage taking remains a possible method for terrorists, and has been seen internationally, such as in Sydney 2014 where 18 people were held hostage for over 16 hours in a café and Paris November 2015, where 15 people were held hostage in a supermarket following the Charlie Hebdo attacks.


The reasonable worst-case scenario of this risk involves a group of people being held hostage as part of a planned siege. Potential impacts of strategic hostage taking include fatalities and casualties, damage to property and infrastructure, increased demands on the emergency services, disruption to essential services and economic damage. Public outrage at the perpetrator(s) would be significant and widespread. Support for hostages’ families will be required, along with significant psychological support for the surviving hostages. There is likely to be a large international media presence and coverage of the siege.


Any variations for this risk are held at a higher classification. 

Response capability requirements

The use of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles would enable a coherent multi-agency response. The response to strategic hostage taking may utilise the deployment of both specialist and non-specialist responders. Specialist responders (armed police, Hazardous Area Response Teams, Specialist Fire and Rescue Service teams, niche military assets and negotiators) are trained to respond to the threat and treat casualties in high- risk environments, and can be deployed from key locations across the country to attend an incident occurring anywhere in the UK. Local Resilience Forums and their Scottish and Irish equivalents would support wider consequence management.


Some individuals will sustain long-lasting physical or psychological injuries. Long-lasting psychological injuries may place long-term pressure on mental health services. Local, regional and national victim support structures will be required to support all those impacted.