Top 10 Greatest Hostage Rescue Operations Of All Time


Episodes of people taken hostage continue to pop up in the headlines, but it’s nothing new. The practice of taking hostages goes back through the ages and has been practiced by

the Romans, China’s Han and Tang dynasties, the British and French.

Today peace conventions like the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages prohibits nations from taking hostages, but not all nations agree. It’s also become a tool of terrorists around the world. When it happens, it’s often up to the military or authorities to take action. Such attempts can be dangerous and sometimes deadly. Here’re the top 10 greatest hostage rescues of all time.


10. Operation Barras

Operation Barras

African rebels calling themselves the West Side Boys decided to take 11 Royal Irish Regiment soldiers and a Sierra Leone local liaison officer hostage in 2000. The patrol had been on a humanitarian mission in civil war-torn Sierra Leone.

Negotiators managed to get five of the British soldiers rescued. British special forces using high-tech listening equipment and vision enhancers from a secret observation post witnessed one hostage being assaulted. That changed the strategy as the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service launched a helicopter rescue known as Operation Barras. One British soldier died and eleven were injured. Twenty-five rebels were killed and 18 were captured. All seven hostages were rescued during the 20-minute operation. 

9. Moscow Theater Hostage Rescue

Moscow Theater Hostage Rescue 10 Greatest Hostage Rescue Operations Of All Time

Not all hostage rescue operations go smoothly. That was the case in 2002 when 40-50 armed Chechen rebel fighters with loyalty to an Islamist militant separatists movement took 850 people hostage in Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater. The rebels, led by Movsar Barayev, demanded that Russian forces withdraw from Chechnya.

Russian Spetsnaz forces pumped an unknown chemical agent into the theater’s ventilation system and raided it. All hostage takers were killed but the gas also killed about 130 hostages including nine foreigners. Some Russian doctors criticized the government for not disclosing what the chemical agent was, saying not knowing prevented them from saving more lives. 

8. Operation Jericho

Operation Jericho

Nazis captured French resistance fighters during its occupation of France during World War II. British forces carried out an airstrike on one of the prisons known for torturing French prisoners. The 1944 airstrike carried out by nine Mosquito bombers breached the prison walls. More than 250 prisoners escaped, but only 70 avoided being recaptured. The rescue attempt killed 100 prisoners and the Nazis killed hundreds more. 

7. Operation Nimrod

Operation Nimrod

Six armed Iranian separatists took 26 people hostage in the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980. The hostage-takers demanded the release of Arab prisoners and assurances that they could leave the UK safely. Five hostages were freed during negotiations but separatists grew dissatisfied when their demands weren’t met, showing their discontent by killing a hostage and throwing his body outside six days into the standoff.

The Special Air Service took control of the situation, sending soldiers repelling down the building into windows in a raid that killed five of six terrorists and rescued all but one of the remaining hostages. The hostage rescue, one of the greatest hostage rescue operations, increased the popularity of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The SAS received an increase in job applicants and more requests from foreign governments wanting its help. 

6. Beslan School Siege

Beslan School Siege

Islamic terrorists took more than 1,100 people including 777 children as hostages in 2004 at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia in Russia. They sought Russian withdrawal from Chechnya. Teachers, students, and parents were among the hostages locked in a gymnasium rigged with explosives and deprived of food and water.

Russian special forces on the third day of the hostage crisis used tanks, incendiary rockets, and other weapons to storm the building. At least 385 hostages including 186 children didn’t survive the rescue attempt. All but one hostage taker were killed. Chechen liberation group Riyadus-Salikhin, the same group responsible for the Moscow theater hostage crisis, claimed responsibility for the school takeover. 

5. Raid at Cabanatuan

Raid at Cabanatuan

Tens of thousands of Filipino and American troops were imprisoned by the Japanese after the Philippines fell to Japan in 1942. The Japanese military started killing prisoners of war when Americans returned to the Philippines two years later. Almost 400 American and Filipino soldiers snuck behind enemy lines and attacked a camp at Cabanatuan, rescuing more than 500 prisoners of war and killing several hundred Japanese soldiers. This operation became known as one of the greatest hostage rescue operations of all time. 

4. Rescue of Jessica Lynch

Rescue of Jessica Lynch

Iraqi forces captured U.S. Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch during an ambush near Nasiriyah in 2003 that killed 11 soldiers in her company. In one of the greatest hostage rescue operations, U.S. forces rescued her nine days later in what became the first successful rescue of an American prisoner of war since World War II. 

3. Operation Entebbe


Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France plane and held its 248 passengers as hostages in 1976. The hijackers hoped to barter for the freedom of 40 Palestinian and pro-Palestinian militants jailed in Israel and 13 others elsewhere. Hijackers diverted the flight to Uganda, where they had the support of the government, and used an abandoned airport building to separate Israelis from other hostages.

All hostages except Israeli passengers and the Air France crew were released over the next two days. Threats to kill the remaining hostages pushed the Israeli Defense Forces into action as 100 commandos flew more than 2,500 miles on Israeli transport planes. They rescued 102 hostages and killed all terrorists and 45 Ugandan soldiers within 90 minutes. Five Israeli commandos were wounded and Israeli Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, the brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was killed. 

2. Operation Feuerzauber


Four Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists hijacked Frankfurt, Germany-bound Lufthansa Flight 181 in 1977. The hijackers – after being denied entrance to a few airports in other countries – landed it to Mogadishu, Somalia. Hijackers calling themselves “Commando Martyr Halima,” in honor of a militant killed in Operation Entebbe the year before, demanded the release of jailed Red Army Faction leaders.

West Germany’s government fibbed about preparing to release the political prisoners and instead showed up with GSG 9, its counter-terrorism unit, as it prepared to launch one of the greatest hostage rescue operations. Commandos diverted some of the terrorists, forced open emergency doors and yelled at hostages to get down as they shot at the hijackers. Three hijackers were killed and one captured as all hostages were rescued. 

1. Operation Chavin de Huantar

Operation Chavin de Huantar

The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement snuck in and seized the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Peru in December 1996. More than 500 senior diplomats, military officers, and government officers had been at the residence to celebrate Japanese Emperor Akihito’s 63rd birthday. Fourteen rebels snuck past more than 50 armed guards outside and more than ten security guards inside and invaded the celebration.

All but 72 hostages were released during negotiations held over the next four months. What the rebels didn’t know was that hand-selected law enforcement officers and soldiers were practicing a rescue mission at a secret military base where they built a full-scale replica of the Japanese ambassador’s residence. The plan included one team tunneling underneath the residence, built like a fortress, and blowing a hole in the floor.

On April 22, 1997, they put the plan into action as the team pushed through the floor and others went through windows to rescue hostages. All 14 rebels were and all but one of the 72 hostages saved after one hostage was shot and died of a heart attack. Two commandos were killed and nine were wounded.

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