Mock Hostage Situation Helps Clients Learn Survival
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ It’s a traveler’s nightmare: a heavily armed masked man storms a car, bus or air terminal in a hail of bullets and grabs hostages.
″Everybody, put your hands on your head,″ the terrorist screams. ″My name is Omar. I have a list of demands for your American government. If they do not cooperate, you will all die.″
Over the next 1 1/2 hours, Omar disembowels one hostage before shooting him in the head, then slices out another’s tongue after the hostage asked him to release two women.
The five remaining hostages kneel and face the wall. Suddenly, it is over, as two commandos rush into the room and mow Omar down.
Victims and tormentor were actors working for a Canadian company that teaches clients how to survive terrorist attacks by simulating hostage situations then reviewing the clients’ mistakes over wine and cheese.
Roy Maia, director of operations for Eagle Anti-Terrorism & International Security, said most clients are corporate executives who frequently travel overseas. They gladly pay $480 for an opportunity to see how they react to the stress of terrorism, he said.
Maia, a 40-year-old native of Portugal, said several thousand people in the United States, Canada and Europe had taken the course since he first offered it nine years ago.
Most demonstrations last about 6 1/2 hours, involve at least two terrorists and hostages who are forced to kneel and keep their hands above their heads for hours. Omar and the two casualties who double as commandos are Eagle employees.
″First, you have to learn to be a good victim so you can survive the ordeal,″ he said. After the first 12 hours, he said, the terrorist wants to go home, too.
″Second, when the emergency teams come in to rescue you, you have to know not to panic and put yourself in a situation where you shield the terrorist,″ Maia said.
He carefully choreographs each mock hostage situation, using cow brains and entrails soaked in chemicals to mimic the smells of wounded hostages. The terrorists also sometimes pull hair and push their victims to prod them into action.
Sometimes, the terrorist takeover is staged on a rented bus or plane. Although participants know what will take place, they never know exactly when. After the rescue, the hostages are briefed on what they did and did not do correctly.
Maia said once a terrorist situation begins, a person must watch tone of voice and body movements and must avoid making eye contact, wich is considered ″aggressive″ action. He also suggested hiding passports, jewelry, letters and driver licenses - anything that can tie an individual to the United States.
″A terrorist really does not want to kill, but he has to keep every person in basic control,″ said Hans Van Loos, 25, who posed as Omar. ″If at any point the crowd makes him feel they are not under submission, he will be forced to kill.
″If you stare at his eyes, he will strike you. ... Do exactly as they say and nothing else. Look up, but do not make eye contact. By doing so, you are taking away his feeling of superiority and power,″ Van Loos said.
Van Loos said a person also should avoid giving one-word answers.
″When a terrorist is coming to you and he is asking you a question and you answer back, do not use yes-no answers,″ he said. ″Ask for water, ask to use the restroom. They may say no, but they may say yes. Try and build a rapport.
″By being too passive, that will instigate (the terrorist) into using that person as an example. You have to keep your tone at a normal level ... a little bit on the submissive side, but not too much. ... You want to show you are willing and eager to do exactly what he says,″ Van Loos said.
Van Loos said a person should have no reservations about lying about their nationality or religion and should align themselves with a neutral country.
″Don’t say you are Jewish or American or a soldier, if you can hide it,″ he said. ″Say you are from Australia or New Zealand. . .. If you are asked whether you are Jewish, do not just deny it, say with force, ’I’m no Jew 3/8‴
In order to survive, a person should not try to be a hero.
″The only thing you can do is here,″ Maia said, pointing to his head. ″What you have to have is common sense and expect the best.″