You're a police officer. A few minutes back, your walkie-talkie crackled and you were told that the Criminals (an infamous group of criminals whose identities are unknown) have struck again and this time, their target was the local high-tech store (think something like an Apple Store or Currys).

You rush to the store and see an all-too-familiar scene. Hundreds of police cars have surround the store, with their officers holding their guns. A few army vehicles are present too, with their soldiers taking up positions alongside the police officers. Bomb disposal teams are also present.

In the middle, you see a scene similar to those which have appeared on television in the past few months. A group of unarmed, masked men wearing gloves stand lazily outside the store and chat among themselves. These are the Criminals. There are explosives on the windows of the store. There are explosives on the ground surrounding the store. There are explosives on the bodies of the Criminals.

Their demands are simple. They want --some amount high amount of money-- transferred to a Swiss bank account within the hour otherwise they'll detonate the explosives.

Despite all of the manpower which is present, the Criminals will walk out of here freely and won't be arrested. Why? Every option available will result in the store being decimated.

If you try arresting them, they'll manually set off the explosives. To prepare for the possibility that they're overpowered, they've placed motion sensors around the store so that if anyone approaches them, the explosives are automatically set off. They've attached monitors to their bodies which monitor their heartbeats, so if they're killed (by sniping or other methods), the explosives will be automatically detonated. If EMPs are used against them, their backup generator kick in and the explosives will explode.

If the money is transferred, they will simply walk out (note: the explosives won't be deactivated). The Criminals say that if they notice any attempts to follow them, the explosives will be detonated. They simply want to leave in a nondescript vehicle (with no reg plates) which they've parked outside. Once the Criminals have left, the police are free to do whatever they want (note: the bomb disposal teams first have to deactivate the bombs).

They can't be allowed to escape. Not this time.

But, how do you stop them? How do you stop them from taking anything of high-value as a hostage and demanding a ransom? Also, what limitations would they face when choosing targets?

Note: (I'll add to this bit if needed)

  1. The world is just like ours (i.e. no magic or sci-fi elements)
  2. I'm looking for ways for the authorities to solve situation in the present. Obviously, I could get the secret services of the world and Interpol on the case but that's not the point here. I'm not looking for answers which essentially say 'Identify the Criminals', because that's not possible in my world (long story).
  3. Think of this 'method' as a franchisee. A criminal mastermind realised years back that, in this situation, the police can't do anything, so the criminal can walk free afterwards. This 'method' is public and criminal gangs across the country can implement it by themselves. The Criminals are just one such gang. So I'm looking for flaws in the method itself, not involving the Criminals.

(I wasn't feeling particularly creative when I named them 'The Criminals', so just think of the name as a placeholder :) )

(Also, please edit the tags if necessary as I wasn't entirely sure as to which tags to use)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I didn't downvote, but this seems like a "solve this plot puzzle" question rather than world building. $\endgroup$ – mattdm Jun 30 '18 at 15:55
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't the right place be the Writers SE? $\endgroup$ – Miguel Bartelsman Jun 30 '18 at 16:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @mattdm. definition 2 is my favourite though, all that fuss and you're going to tax them? $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 30 '18 at 17:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If I may recommend, I think the solution is research. This is the job description for hostage negotiators. What you describe is the exact job they have to do: resolve the situation without anyone getting hurt. Their entire job is to resolve these situations without encouraging more criminals to do the same. And hostage situations are are dramatically more difficult than merely threatening to destroy a few million dollars of real estate. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 30 '18 at 18:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "I'm trying to find any plot holes in my plan before I write it" - this is not what this site is for. We can't generate your story for you (and we won't), but if you already have a plan that the police will use to stop the criminals, and post that here, we can reality check your plan to stop them (to a degree) $\endgroup$ – Aify Jun 30 '18 at 20:10

Uh: you wait, and call their bluff. Are they really going to blow themselves up in an hour? Fine — the Apple Store has insurance. If the Criminals decide they don't want to die after all, they can either surrender, or keep up their threat. But for how long? The police can work in shifts. They can keep this up forever if need be. How many days of rations does the Apple Store normally have?

In your question, the "high value target" is just stuff. This is an easy call. The risk to that stuff is much lower than the total societal cost of letting them pull this crap.

You say that this is a "franchise" operation indented to be repeated. This absolutely removes cooperation as even a consideration, because — as is your concern — the downside to that is perpetual repetition. So, this is not a situation where the Criminals ever get their demands met. Given that, as a potential restaurateur, would you buy into a McDonald's franchise if, not only did it involve putting your life at risk, but in the first franchise the whole thing burned down with the owner inside?

Now, if instead of the Apple Store, we've got this situation at an orphanage, it gets a lot more complicated. Especially if the Criminals are demonstrably willing to kill babies. Then, someone is going to make a call. That call won't be "okay, let them go free as they demand", though, because there is no reason to trust these guys who are willing to kill babies. It'll probably be the same "wait them out" plan, until the Criminals demonstrate that they are actually going to kill the babies for sure. At that point, someone may decide that action is better than inaction — there will probably be a raid.

There will be fatalities, and afterwards, a lot of recriminations and investigation, but it's not like there a lot of good options and it's likely that that call would be made again in the same situation in the future. As a reference, check out the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis — authorities tried to use a narcotic gas, and 120 hostages died.

Of course, this is the basic crisis of, like, nine million action movies *cough*. And probably twice that many paperback thrillers. The plot then revolves around finding whatever loophole or weakness exists in the Criminals' plan — usually some detail of technology, or the building layout, or whatever. But there isn't a general worldbuilding answer to that. You've got to write one in to your story, if that's what you want.

I'd argue that it's really been done to death and there isn't much more of interest to explore. That's because there is a flaw in the method itself: there are only two possible outcomes. Most likely, as they are in this for the money and not ideology, the Criminals decide that they don't want to die over this, after all, and surrender. Or, if they don't, a response team rushes in and one way or another the Criminals all die. "The Criminals get what they're asking for" just isn't on the table.

  • $\begingroup$ I like this approach :) But, there's a few problems. First, let's say that these people are willing to be martyred (as in willing-to-die-in-the-name-of-God sort of die), then you know they're not bluffing. Also (I'll edit this bit in), they operate as part of a wider network of criminals, meaning that even if these guys blow themselves up, the problem isn't solved. I'm not willing to go for a solution where you wait for the whole criminal network to blow themselves up before saying that the problem's solved. ... $\endgroup$ – Adi219 Jun 30 '18 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ ... Also, the money they're demanding isn't unreasonable (it's not like £1m with an Apple Store as a hostage). Say the total value of the items inside the store is £100k, then the Criminals will ask for something like £50k (i.e. the cost to society will be more than letting them walk away); $\endgroup$ – Adi219 Jun 30 '18 at 16:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The terrorists at the moscow theater were quite willing to sacrifice themselves as martyrs, too, and it didn't stop Putin from ordering the blitz $\endgroup$ – Valerio Pastore Jun 30 '18 at 16:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The hardline approach is even more likely (and most effective) if there is a wider organization. This is what I meant by the "total cost of letting them pull this crap" line. If this succeeds, they'll definitely do it again with higher and higher stakes. If it doesn't, well, they'll have to find something else. Unless the Criminals are phenomenally stubborn — or actually are the Terrorists and blowing up everything is actually part of what they want anyway — they're not going to repeat. $\endgroup$ – mattdm Jun 30 '18 at 16:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Here's another way to think about this: why doesn't this happen all the time in real life? Sure, there's some expense and required smarts, but there are plenty of criminal organization with money and expertise. The orphanage scenario requires a level of evil which is actually quite rare. But why not the Apple Store all the time? Because this. $\endgroup$ – mattdm Jun 30 '18 at 16:38

All this has happened before...

Bombing campaigns have occurred in the past and are still occurring today. They are mostly conducted by people motivated by convictions that they are willing to die for rather than simple greed. This is appropriate, because dying as a result of participating in a bombing campaign is a highly probable outcome.

You have described a situation where a group of greedy criminals have built and deployed bombs on the ground and around themselves that will be triggered if (a) any of them activates their manual switch; (b) the heart rate monitor of any of them fails to show a heartbeat; or (c) any motion detector around the building picks up something that might be movement. All it takes is one faulty device, or one accident with a manual switch, one dodgy contact that stops registering heartbeats or one piece of windblown rubbish triggering a motion detector and the entire band of criminals is blown up without the authorities lifting a finger. It is quite likely that this will happen before they leave their hideout... Please read about previous terrorist bombing campaigns - at one point the PIRA were building increasingly complicated devices to target the bomb squad operators when they tried to defuse devices. The PIRA gave up when they started losing too many bomb-makers accidentally blowing themselves up while trying to make complicated tamper-proof bombs. Anyone who can set up a series of devices like this that will always detonate when they should and never detonate when they should not is sufficiently brilliant that they do not need to turn to dodgy criminal enterprises to make lots of money.

The next point has to do with countermeasures - EMPs do not work the way you appear to think they do. If the area is hit with an EMP then most electronics will be dead - not the batteries, or wires, but the semi-conductors. If the manual switch for each suicide bomber is on a simple circuit then that will probably still work, so the criminal can pointlessly suicide, but any automatic switching will be disabled. The Criminals cannot use shielded devices to protect themselves from EMP, because if they are protected from EMP then they are protected from sending or receiving the signals they depend on! There are also a multitude of other electronic warfare options available depending on how the explosive devices are networked together - blanket jamming if they are only transmitting when sending a detonate signal, spoofing if they are constantly sending "I have not yet detonated" signals to each other.

In addition to dealing with the signals to detonate, there are ways of dealing with the explosive devices themselves - disruptors, anti-materiel rifles etc. There are related ways to deal with criminals non-lethally. Or lethally with headshots - the heart will not stop instantly, which buys time to deal with the explosives.

The next point is that the Criminals can say that they do not want the police to follow them, but in today's era of aerial surveillance drones they will be followed, probably in a way that cannot be detected. In some cities there is no need for drones even - they can be constantly tracked by existing CCTV cameras. They can also hope that the Swiss bank will let them do some funky financial magic and let their money become untraceable, but I do not believe that the Swiss are quite that accommodating to blatant criminals any longer.

Finally we arrive at the points that Valerio Pastore and mattdm made - after the bitter lessons of the sixties and seventies, all governments know that they are better off wearing the pain from decisively eliminating a terror threat rather than being soft and thus inviting future attacks. The first time this is tried will be the last. The government will be happy to negotiate for a prolonged period (gives them more time to evacuate the area and prepare countermeasures) but they will not let the Criminals get away. They may let them think they are getting away in order to isolate and contain the threat (fake the notification that the money was transferred etc), but the Criminals will end up in prison or as a fine pink mist.


Good! So these guys are already known, so authorities know they're serious.

Remember when Putin ordered a blitz in a hostage-filled theater? And the civilian casualties? And the fact that Putin didn't give a damn because he was fighting terrorists?

Excellent! In the Trump era the Criminals will be just killed as terrorists. Just feed the media the story that the ubersafe plan has a weak point so to justify a blitz, shoot them and...whoops, sorry guys, we will help the families but rest assured: these terrorists won't harm anyone else

And if this is not our world, then the whole point of a solution to this drama is moot: authorities can react any way they want, since this is your world, it is your story, just write yourself out of this corner. In our world, authorities would likely run the risk and sacrifice a few to stop forever these criminals

  • $\begingroup$ For your first point, I'm not quite sure that I understand so I'll state what I meant. I meant that the bombs will still be primed (so that the Criminals still have some leverage over the authorities even after they've left (otherwise there's nothing stopping the authorities from transferring the money and then following the Criminals and arresting them)). For your second point, please see the edit. $\endgroup$ – Adi219 Jun 30 '18 at 15:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That is a solution: making sure they can't do it ever again. $\endgroup$ – Valerio Pastore Jun 30 '18 at 16:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ValerioPastore That isn't a solution. True, it's making sure that they never do it again, but it's not stopping them at present. The current problem still won't be solved and there will still be a cost. $\endgroup$ – Adi219 Jun 30 '18 at 16:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Adi219 WHYYYY? How many people do you have in your world willing to die over the potential chance of splitting £50,000 after considerable expenses? $\endgroup$ – mattdm Jun 30 '18 at 16:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But, it's quite clear that this method would succeed every time if the gang didn't blow themselves up. NOOOooooooo. In the case where they don't blow themselves up, they get tired, hungry, and eventually arrested. $\endgroup$ – mattdm Jun 30 '18 at 16:57

In addition to the great answers referencing real life, I'd like to add that this is a major character aspect of Raven from Snow Crash. Raven is the subject of this beautiful quote from chapter 36. I've censored the cursing, but the book doesn't:

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherf----- in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherf----- in the world. The position is taken.

How did Raven get this level of respect? Well some of it is the "poor impulse control" tattooed on his forehead in prison when the authorities could not control him (such punishment became a mark of respect once you get out). But mostly it's because he drove around on a motorcycle with a nuclear bomb in the sidecar, rigged to his heart to explode if his heart ever stopped. He made a living getting the different corporations to pay him to be elsewhere, in case something goes wrong.

So you can get away with this, but you have to think much bigger than a bunch of stuff. The other answers pointed out that, after someone tries this technique a few times, you'll adapt new solutions. However, if you are the one and only one driving around with a nuclear bomb triggered by your heart, you are a badass motherf-----, and they won't get a chance to learn how to do deal with you.

  • $\begingroup$ Most people (nations, even) don't have access to nuclear bombs :( $\endgroup$ – Adi219 Jun 30 '18 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Also people could call Raven's bluff. $\endgroup$ – Adi219 Jun 30 '18 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Adi219 As long as it's a bluff, that works great. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 30 '18 at 17:42

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.