The French commandos swoop into action, shooting dead the kidnappers and bundling the hostages into a helicopter. But the smiles of the former captives fade as their liberators deliver a nasty shock: the bill.
That could be the scene after Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister, introduced a law enabling officials to take legal action against kidnap victims deemed to have ignored official advice against travelling to dangerous places.
The legislation follows criticism over the burden to taxpayers from missions to free French hostages in countries such as Iraq, Somalia and Pakistan.
“If people get themselves into difficulty and the State has to intervene, putting the lives of its own agents in danger, then it is legitimate in principle to be able to recover the money,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Times. “This is meant to be dissuasive. We’re concerned about public finances but we’re more concerned about the safety of French citizens.”
The controversy echoes the row in Britain after the the SAS rescued Norman Kember, the peace activist held in Iraq, in 2006. When he initially omitted to thank publicly the SAS, who had freed him and two Canadian hostages, army officers queued up to criticised his apparent ingratitude.
Diplomats said that the cost of operations, often involving navy vessels, air force helicopters, commandos, secret service agents and covert deals with corrupt officials and kidnappers, could run to millions of euros.