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The Shifting Conditions Confronting The French Hostage Negotiator


As we've been hearing all morning, there are two hostage situations now in Paris - or we should say two confrontations. In one of them, according into a French prosecutor, hostages have been taking at a kosher supermarket in Paris. Outside the city at warehouse, two suspects in this week's Charlie Hebdo shooting are holed up, and there is a possible hostage, we're told, there.

We're going to talk through this situation now with Robert McFadden. He's with The Soufan Group and has a long career in federal law enforcement. And we asked him a short time ago what it is that a hostage negotiator does in this situation.

ROBERT MCFADDEN: The situation is all about safety - paramount - getting the number of hostages and establishing some kind of communication where there's a degree of rapport and accord in getting to know what situation is, what the other end wants and trying to get as many facts as possible.

INSKEEP: Now, you said establishing the number of hostages. T hat seems vital here because we have had media reports of possible hostages. French authorities have specifically not confirmed that. They say they are not able to confirm that. This must be a difficult thing to determine, even if the gunman claimed to have hostages, whether they do and how many.

MCFADDEN: Exactly. There are two words here that are operative. The one is safety, and the other is patience because at the end of this - and it will end here, no doubt about it with the capability of the French - it's getting one or both into custody live.

INSKEEP: These men have had statements attributed to them, actually over a number of years, talking about martyrdom. One of them was seen in a documentary a decade ago talking in a positive way about becoming a martyr and some kind of attack. There are unconfirmed reports that they made statements about martyrdom in this situation in the last several hours. Based on your experience, how does that affect the way that negotiators and other authorities would approach them?

MCFADDEN: Typically they're either want to go down in a hail of bullets or to blow themselves up. So with the French service, I'm sure that's key right now, trying to get a bead on what capabilities, what weapons they have, what conditions they're in at this time.

INSKEEP: Well, you used that other word, patience. Have there been occasions, in your experience, where someone has seemed to be suicidal at the beginning of a negotiation, but in the end, they walk out of there after a while?

MCFADDEN: Absolutely. I mean, there is a whole range of different scenarios, and that's the key here, is the amount of information the French may have at their disposal, like the United States A-level capabilities, such as the FBI had; they usually have a lot of technical means at their disposal as well just depending on what the physical environment is like to get those technical mans in place.

INSKEEP: What questions would you be asking if you were part of the investigation of this incident?

MCFADDEN: Well, when we talk about the presumption that they come into the custody of the French authorities, I mean, first and foremost, it's about finding out and then thwarting - slowing down and stopping the momentum of any other conspiracies or acts that might be in place. That's paramount. And then it's the other details about, you know, how they were able to organize, what nodes of communication they might have with outside elements and then a whole range of other intelligence requirements to follow that.

INSKEEP: Robert McFadden is senior vice president for The Soufan Group. Thanks very much.

MCFADDEN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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