They'll never admit it, but many countries pay ransoms to get their hostages back

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Marco Werman: James Foley's captors made ransom demands before they killed him. They wanted $132 million for his release. The US rejects such demands but some European nations have paid in similar cases. Nicolas Henin is a French journalist who was also kidnapped in Syria. He was held with Foley for several months but was eventually released. This week, Henin gave the BBC his take on different policies. Nicolas Henin: I'm just a journalist, it's not my role to judge and say "These people are right. These people are wrong." I just have to say that I'm quite happy to be French because I'm here with you. Werman: How governments deal with ransom demands was also the topic of a New York Times article today. It's by Rukmini Callimachi. She says it's unclear when the Islamic State militants who held Foley first made their demands. Rukmini Callimachi: Foley, as you know, was held for close to 2 years and his family did not have any contact with the kidnappers for a very long stretch - I think close to a year. So, I don't believe it was that long ago that they asked for this amount of money and then of course with the start of the airstrikes and perhaps with the realization that America really would not pay, we saw the horrible end to this young man's life. Werman: Did the Foley family want to pay the ransom? Callimachi: I've not spoken to the Foley family about it. I just know from people that have spoken to them that of course they wanted to do everything possible to save their son's life. Werman: There is a big inconsistency in the way Western governments deal with kidnappings and specifically the paying of ransom. Very troubling fact that a lot of European countries will pay ransom and the US will not pay a ransom. How does that all break down? Callimachi: Exactly. In a story that I did earlier this month, we revealed that $125 million in ransom payments have been paid to al-Qaeda and its direct affiliates. So although every country in the world says that they don't pay, the reality is that in fact it's really only the British government, the US government, the Canadians and a few small European nations that in fact don't pay. Others say they do not pay but they do behind closed doors through proxies and through intermediaries, through a system that allows them to essentially deny that they ever paid. Werman: So, two Spanish and four French journalists were being held with James Foley. They were released in March. Who paid what in those cases to get them released? Do you know? Callimachi: I do know. Unfortunately, that's still material that remains very sensitive right now, so I'm not going to answer that question for now. Werman: Can you answer whether it was the governments of those countries and do they admit that they paid the money? Callimachi: Of course not. They always deny that a ransom was paid. We are in touch with some of the people that the kidnappers contacted in Turkey and in Syria in order to try to negotiate the movement of the money. So we know that these discussions were ongoing, we know that government representatives showed up, and not just from Spain and France but also from other nations whose citizens were being held. We know that these terror groups do not release Westerners without having some of their demands met. They don't do charity work. Werman: So what do the French and Spanish governments, for example, actually say? How do they explain this? Because often there are government representatives - I've seen these pictures - when these journalists get off the plane, to greet them - how do they explain this? Callimachi: They always deny that a ransom was paid. They punt the question to their media office, which issues a standard rebuttal of any claims that money was exchanged. I was able to go to Germany and I spoke to some of the German officials who were literally involved and carrying suitcases of cash to North Africa in order to win the release of hostages who were held by a precursor to AQIM in 2003. Werman: AQIM is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that's west Africa. Callimachi: Exactly. Yet when you call the German foreign ministry, even though I have spoken to the very people who were involved in the money transfer, the foreign ministry will still tell you no ransom was paid. That payment we know was camouflaged as an aid payment to the nation of Mali. So they sent the payment, the suitcases of cash, to Mali. The Malian president received that money and he then parceled it out to couriers who brought it to the terrorists, who then released the hostages. So, on paper, it looks as if Germany made a payment to Mali for humanitarian aid, which is not outside the realm of imagination. Werman: Rukmini Callimachi, a reporter with The New York Times. Thank you very much. Callimachi: Thank you.