The UK will introduce new laws prohibiting insurance firms from covering ransom payments made to terrorist groups, in a move which could put the British government’s hostage policy at greater odds with its European neighbours.
Home Secretary Theresa May said on Monday that the new legislation is designed to stop the families and employers of people kidnapped by organizations like the Islamic State (IS) paying for their release.
“Our position is clear — ransom payments to terrorists are illegal under UK and international law,” May said at a counter-terrorism event in London where she unveiled parts of a new counter-terrorism bill to be introduced to the British parliament on Wednesday. “Agreeing to meet the demands of barbaric groups like ISIL [an alternative name for IS] would only put many more lives at risk.”
A recent UN report said a Western hostage was worth an average of $2.7 million and estimated that IS had made between $35 and $45 million in the past year alone from such payments. Paying ransoms to terrorist groups is illegal under UK law and the British government has long argued that the practice encourages further kidnappings and attacks, but there has been uncertainty over whether insurance companies could cover ransoms paid by others.