When Sums Go Bad: Mathematical Models and Hostage Situations

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Hostage-taking events remain one of the most common forms of international terrorism. Such events are particularly significant due to their very high media profile and the unique challenges and potentials they present to governments. Yet despite such importance, remarkably little systematic analysis of terrorist hostage-taking has taken place. This paper reviews a body of research which has attempted to model such events using mathematical principles. The guidelines which have emerged from this research are tested against three recent high-profile hostage situations. The overall finding is that the mathematical models are currently too limited to be heavily relied upon in field situations. Nevertheless, it is equally very clear that the potential exists to develop more robust models which could prove highly useful in the real world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-66
Number of pages18
JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • terrorism
  • hostage-taking
  • modelling
  • counter-terrorism

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