Negotiating with Terrorists

May 2012

A group of terrorist bombers have captured half of the students and are holding them hostage. The other half of the class represent police, government, and general negotiators. There is a standoff situation. The bombers demand one-million dollars in cash and a helicopter on the roof that will take them wherever they want. As well as this, they want food because they haven’t eaten for more than 24 hours. The hostages have not eaten either. There is a growing mob of people gathering in the street outside, adding to the pressure-cooker atmosphere.

Highflying hijacker
Never underestimate a man
with a sock on his head.


The government does not want to pay these villains anything, not just for monetary reasons but because it would show weakness and set a precedent, encouraging similar attempts. They will get some food if they release half of the hostages. They do not have a helicopter available and they do not have the authority to grant the bombers’ security demands.

As well as getting the parties to communicate this situation to each other, ask each hostage to reason with their kidnappers as to why they should let him or her go instead of the others. In this way, one by one, each student has to plead his or her case and the kidnappers must decide which ones have the most worthy case.

Individual hostages should be given opportunties to speak to the negotiators (partly under duress) to tell them to give the terrorists what they want. Stockholm Syndrome could also come into play. In other words, the hostages begin speaking well of their captors and praise their motivations.

The negiotiators have to think of what they can offer the bombers, while they must try to get as many concessions as they can. Each negotiator must take his or her turn to speak with the kidnappers. The mediators have to see what they can get the terrorists to do, and see if they can get them to release at least some of the hostages.

The main language focus is on using conditionals. The discussions must be creative, orderly, and reasoned and the students must be given enough to time to prepare their arguments and demands, working as teams with leaders where necessary. Rifles should be improvised as props for the gang.

Various twists can be added to the scenario. For example, the bombers could be victims of some misfortune or injustice. They could be renegade cops, political dissidents, or former colleagues of either party. Among other deals, there could be an exchange of people. Family members and journalists can also be introduced. The bombers should also have varying levels of sympathy / ruthlessness, exposing cracks within the group which the negotiators must try to engineer and exploit.