Retired Journalist Reflects On Captivity And Recent ISIS Actions


Terry Anderson, who was abducted from the streets of Beirut, Lebanon after playing a game of tennis, was held hostage by a group of Hezbollah Shiite Muslims from March 1985 to December 1991.

Despite being held by different captors, Anderson is speaking up about the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and the group’s current actions in the Middle East.

Following the recent beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, some Americans are struggling to understand why families are repeatedly warned not to pay for the freedom of relatives.

Christopher Vallandingham, a University of Florida international law professor, said the U.S. government has a long-standing policy prohibiting paying ransom money in exchange for hostages. Although this government policy is not law, different rules apply to citizens and organizations.

“In 1996, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which banned knowingly providing material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization,” Vallandingham said.

It is illegal for citizens and organizations to pay ransom, but Vallandingham said prosecution would be unlikely because it can be argued action was taken under duress.

Despite this policy, European countries have been known to pay ransom, and Anderson said this only feeds the problem.

“European companies have paid $150 million to ISIS to release captives,” he said. “That’s $150 million in the hands of a terrorist group. That funds them, keeps them going, and that is why we don’t pay ransom.”

While being held hostage, Anderson said he understood the policy; he just had to sit and wait – blindfolded and chained – for over six years.

“I never believed the U.S. government would negotiate on my behalf,” he said. “It was a mistake then, and it would be a mistake now.”

That doesn’t mean Anderson was “praying for a Delta Force to come crashing through the ceiling.” He wanted to go home.

“I wanted to get the hell out of there,” he said. “But on a rational basis, and really any moral basis, I should be no more important than anyone else.”

Anderson said terrorists are most likely taking Americans in hopes of gaining publicity.

Things were different during Anderson’s time in captivity because the U.S. government traded weapons for the release of hostages. Anderson said his captors were looking for anyone from the West.

In an effort to take a stance against the Islamic State, Agence France Presse, an international news agency, will not post photos or videos taken by freelance journalists in territories controlled by the extremist group. Additionally, it will not refer to the group as a “state,” in an effort to limit their publicity  an action Anderson said he agrees with.

“Do we have to show their films?” he asked. “No. That is pornography. They’re horrible. Nobody really needs to see that.”

Despite his time in captivity, Anderson still feels passionately about journalism and is teaching two courses at the University of Florida this fall semester. He is also the honorary chair for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

About Ashlyn Reese

Ashlyn is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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