The Department of Justice released the following statement regarding U.S. citizens who are taken hostage abroad:
When a U.S. citizen is taken hostage, the Department of Justice’s top priority is the safe return of the hostage. The families who have been affected by hostage-takings have endured extraordinarily difficult circumstances. In light of recent hostage-takings perpetrated by terrorist groups, some families have expressed concerns that their efforts to retrieve their loved one could lead to potential prosecutions under the statute prohibiting the provision of material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations. In the face of their loved ones being held captive indefinitely by terrorist groups, families have understandably explored every option to secure their loved ones’ safe recovery.
In these cases, the department has focused on helping the families, consistent with the government’s no-concessions policy, and will continue to focus on exploring all appropriate options. The department does not intend to add to families’ pain in such cases by suggesting that they could face criminal prosecution. Perhaps the best indication of how the department will exercise its prosecutorial discretion in enforcing the material support statute is the department’s past record of prosecuting cases under the statute. The department has never used the material support statute to prosecute a hostage’s family or friends for paying a ransom for the safe return of their loved one.