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History was written at Norrmalmstorg

Svenska Dagbladet 3/9 1983

Professor Nils Bejerot on the experiences from the hostage drama ten years ago

Ten years after the heist against Kreditbanken's former headquarters at Norrmalmstorg, there is reason to summarize certain experiences and perspectives on the type of crime that involves kidnapping.

In August 1973, when I served as a psychiatric consultant for the Stockholm Police and became part of the operational leadership team handling the heist, I had previously been involved as a negotiator in about a dozen cases where mentally ill, depressed, jealous, drug-influenced, or intoxicated individuals had barricaded themselves with weapons, usually taking relatives as hostages. This had provided some practical-clinical familiarity, but Norrmalmstorg was something entirely different.

I can predict the behavior

Despite the vast mystification of human behavior that certain branches of psychology have managed to produce, it's apparent to the biologically-oriented that both human and animal behavior is purposeful based on the individual's conditions, needs, and possibilities. Knowing or assessing these guiding factors, one should also be able to predict behavior largely. Yet, our new and numerous breed of desk-bound theorists don't find it that simple. However, over 25 years of psychiatric work and assessment of more than 12,000 acute psychiatric cases have shown that both healthy and ill, honest and criminal individuals follow the same psychological principles: Based on biological and social preconditions, needs, and possibilities, behavior at the moment is directed by previously learned and now expected consequences of behavior. It's no more complicated than that, I believe, and I've never seen this thesis proven wrong.

Demanded the police's surrender

In the initial stages of the Norrmalmstorg drama, the police leadership strongly feared that the robber would shoot or harm the hostages to secure safe passage with the three million kronor he extorted. Various psychologists and psychiatrists also called the leadership group, warning that a firm and rejecting stance towards the robber's demands would inevitably result in a bloodbath.

On TV, Skå-Gustav Jonsson echoed the same message, and nine criminology professors at Stockholm University widely publicized a hastily written appeal demanding the police's surrender and holding the police leadership and its consultant responsible for the looming disaster if they didn't heed the wise advice. At this time in other countries, robbers with hostages were often granted safe passage.

This was the starting point as we began our discussions and analyses in the leadership group. Primarily, we needed to buy time, so certain tactical concessions became necessary: the robber was allowed his accomplice, and he received the demanded money.

Not Harm the Hostages

After a couple of days of continuous discussions, there was near unanimity around the basic idea that the hostages were the robber's only negotiable 'asset,' and he would be extremely cautious about the bargaining power the hostages provided. Furthermore, the situation would become unbearable for the robber if he had dead, injured, or wounded people around him.

Naturally, the robber would threaten and ensure he was respected, but there was no reasonable basis to assume he would actually harm the hostages. The operation, which lasted nearly six days, was conducted based on this principle.

Irresponsible Opinions

After the drama concluded and both culprits and hostages were safely secured without a scratch (but with two seriously injured officers in the hospital), we had expected some minor acknowledgment for our analysis. Instead [unclear text], they couldn't conceal their resentment and frankly stated we "had tremendous luck." This incredibly naive comment initially upset me. Later, I realized that the critics, due to a dismal theoretical framework, simply weren't capable of analyzing the Norrmalmstorg situation. They merely expressed their emotions irresponsibly, a trend that has become fashionable in some circles since the academic decline of the late 60s became evident.

Provoked by the reaction to the drama, I began to research published materials on kidnappings and hostage situations internationally, attempting to systematize the data. The results have since been presented at security conferences in Geneva and Lisbon and briefly in People in Picture/Culture Front (12/81).

The main pillars for analysis and risk assessment have been:

  • The perpetrators and their objectives

  • The victims and their relationship to the perpetrators, and

  • The type of abduction, i.e., whether it's a classic kidnapping or a barricade situation.

Two kinds of perpetrators

In terms of perpetrators, there are essentially two kinds: criminals, or let's say "commercial" individuals who are solely after money, and political or idealistic individuals primarily seeking political gains. These gains can be in the form of money for their organization's continued struggle, the release of captured comrades, forced political concessions, or simply publicity, often it's a combination of these motives.

If we are dealing with psychotic, "mentally ill", or severely mentally disturbed individuals, or those temporarily intoxicated, it may be particularly challenging to predict their actions. Fortunately, such disturbed individuals rarely carry out kidnappings in the real sense; it's usually limited to domestic dramas. Moving forward, I will focus on professional criminals and political terrorists.

Both professional criminals and terrorists naturally possess highly deviant value systems and, to the average person, often have seemingly incomprehensible ambitions.

Concerned for Their Own Skin

Conversations with thousands of criminals have taught me that the more experienced ones are often highly goal-oriented and willing to take significant risks in the hope of either escaping, lying their way out during a trial, or eventually escaping from prison. Despite their readiness to take great risks, they typically value their own safety, preferring to flee rather than engage in confrontations or brawls.

Those with extensive criminal backgrounds tend to be astute everyday psychologists, possessing keen intuition and insight into human nature. Without these skills, they would never have succeeded in their criminal endeavors. Experienced criminals can quickly assess people's intentions and actions in various situations. They are highly attuned to evasiveness and lies, typically seeing right through any deception immediately.

Acts of War Against the State

The terrorists are invariably made up of politically or religiously devoted, fanatical, or obsessed individuals who belong to some form of organization with far-reaching objectives, ultimately related to power in society.

Their attacks essentially constitute acts of war against the current state structure, which they are prepared to combat using illegal methods because they deem it inferior, corrupt, or criminal, etc. The fanaticism and group pressure make terrorists extremely bold and dangerous. Martyrdom awaits those who fall.

Endure tough hardships

The victims can be either distinctly antagonistic individuals in relation to the perpetrators (prison guards, politicians, opponents, etc.), whom they have a special interest in, or "neutral" individuals who happen to become victims of a kidnapping by circumstance.

In cases of kidnapping, the ideal target should be a robust individual capable of enduring the harsh hardships that such captivity entails. The elderly seem to be unattractive targets, perhaps not just for health reasons but also because the willingness of relatives to pay a fortune for someone who has already lived their life might be expected to be diminished. Children are easy to kidnap but challenging to manage during captivity.

Thus, the most sought-after victim in a kidnapping is a successful and middle-aged man, preferably in a prominent position, or a political leadership figure.

To Raise Publicity

The situation is markedly different if the hostages are with the surrounded and besieged perpetrators in a barricade situation, or if the victim is held captive in an unknown location.

Criminals typically never seek a barricade situation; such a situation usually arises after they fail to escape from the crime scene: a discovered burglary, a botched bank robbery, etc.

On the other hand, terrorists often aim for a barricade situation in an occupied embassy or the like, with the intention of garnering as much publicity as possible for their causes.

The hostages were not at risk

According to the table, there are eight main types of hostage situations, all with varying risks for the victims.

The Norrmalmstorg drama falls into category 1Aa in this triangle: Criminals have taken neutral individuals as hostages in a barricade situation. Historically, no criminals have ever intentionally harmed their hostages in such a scenario: The victims that have been harmed were caught in the crossfire between robbers and the police.

Thus, at Norrmalmstorg, the hostages did not face any notable risk from the perpetrators' side. Criminals are not the madmen that our university professors of criminology seem to believe, but highly rational individuals. (Otherwise, crime wouldn't be as prevalent as it is.)

Ceased all over the world

The multimillionaire kidnapped by bandits has a full seventy percent chance of surviving, while the politician taken hostage by terrorists and hidden away in an unknown location is almost without hope: He has less than a ten percent chance of surviving in what is by far the most dangerous form of kidnapping.

History was indeed written at Norrmalmstorg in 1973: After the heist was thwarted and the events analyzed by both sides, this type of criminal attack has virtually ceased worldwide. The authorities have learned how to handle this kind of attack, and the criminals know that the game is lost if they put themselves in a barricade situation. The first thing the robber's accomplice said to me when I met him outside the vault was also: "Now you can be sure that something similar will not happen in this country for the next ten years!"

The lessons from Norrmalmstorg are unlikely to appear in any contemporary Swedish criminology textbooks, and I readily admit that we indeed had "tremendous luck" as researchers and knowledge builders: Had Norrmalmstorg not been in Stockholm, the analysis might still have been undone.

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