On this day in history : 9th December 1995 – British soldier Sgt. Timothy Cowley is freed by special forces 119 days after being taken hostage by Colombian bandits….

32-year-old Staff Sergeant Timothy Cowley had been birdwatching in the Tolima region, a remote mountainous area of Colombia – and a known drug producing territory….He had been driving and had come across a roadblock – when it was realised that he was connected to the British Embassy he was seized by the guerrilla gang…. It was not long before the British authorities received a ransom demand of £1.3m from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – the country’s largest guerrilla group….

Tolima shown in red – Image credit : TUBS – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Negotiation experts from Scotland Yard arrived in Colombia, along with members of the SAS – to assist the Colombian authorities…. Negotiations were so sensitive that news of his kidnapping was kept secret – although it was leaked a couple of weeks later…. Only two weeks before Cowley had been taken a 22-year-old British student had been executed when a £33k ransom had not been paid…. And three years previously a British businessman had been shot dead after being kidnapped….

There was much speculation at the time that Cowley was involved in British military action against the drugs gangs…. However, this was strongly denied by the British government – who said he had been working as a clerk at the British Embassy in Bogotá and had gone to the Tolima region as an amateur ornithologist….

Tolima Department of Colombia – Image credit : JELVi CC BY 3.0

The SAS were not involved in the physical rescue operation but advised the Colombian Special Forces and helped them to track Cowley…. When they found him the gang had fled and Cowley was tied to a tree with a rope around his neck – but otherwise unharmed…. He had spent much of his 119 days in captivity blind folded and tied up….

After the successful rescue mission Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind sent his congratulations to everybody involved….

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