Tourist Abductions in France

What are the odds of a tourist getting abducted in France? It might depend on what kind of car you decide to rent.
It might also depend on where you plan to travel while in France. I was only partly surprised to read the story in today’s Le Figaro about a Spanish family, husband, wife and child getting abducted in the Landes region of France. The Landes region in southern France is not far from Spain and the border with the Basque country (which straddles Spain and France). The reason why I was only partly surprised is the fact that tourists from other parts of France to this region have always been warned about the possibility of disturbances. (When we went to the Basque region in the 1990s, we were told that having a Paris license plate would be more to our advantage than having a local license plate).

As you may or may not already know, the Basque separatist movement (ETA) has been the alleged cause of numerous bombings for decades. The ETA might be compared in some ways to northern Ireland’s IRA. However, in this case, the tourists who had been targeted for abduction also happened to be Spanish nationals, and more specifically from the Basque.

They also abducted for a very specific reason – not as you might guess for ransom, but rather, to have access to their vans – in this case a camper/van.

The Basque region, located in France and in Spain is probably once of the most beautiful geographic areas of these two countries. The Basque culture is worth getting to know. Its language Euskaria is considered to be the oldest living language in Europe. The Landes region has some of the best beaches in France for surfing (Arcachon). In other words, if you’re already planning a trip to this area, by all means, go, just be aware.

You might want to think about what type of car you’ll be leasing – apparently the abductors pretended to be police when they aroused the family from their van and whisked them away in another car to remote woods in the Landes. The family was eventually released after several days.

The motivation for the abduction was to have access to a van, which had not been reported as stolen, giving ample time to use the car as a carrier for explosives.

From the viewpoint of the tourist, you might want to consider leaving specific travel dates with a family member or friend so that they can keep track of your itinerary. You might even think about planning daily calls back home using your cell phone or Skype if you have any concerns. Knowing that another person can constantly track your location can also act as a good check for such ‘unlikely events’.

For some reason, cars leased with Paris license plates tend to be less targeted. As visitors to the Basque region in Spain, we have been never experienced any problems. We participated in a hike to Santiago de Compostela from Leon. (We took the train back to Paris from Santiago de Compostela).

On the other hand, in Italy, if you drive a leased car, you’ll want to make sure that you leave absolutely NO belongings in your car if you park it out on the streets or outdoor parking lots when you stay overnight at a hotel. (Some hotels provide guarded parking for guests)

This is to assure you that your odds of getting robbed or pickpocketed are much higher than getting abducted, and if you,re conscientious, keeping your belongings in sight, you should have a perfectly uneventful (in the negative sense) and pleasant trip.