Egypt affiliate of ‘Islamic State’ threatens to execute Croatian hostage

Friday 31/07/2015
Croatian hostage Tomislav Salopek

CAIRO - Egypt\'s affiliate of the Islamic State group threatened Wednesday to execute a Croatian kidnapped in Cairo last month within 48 hours if Muslim women jailed in Egypt are not freed.

The man is the first foreigner to be abducted and threatened with death by militants in Egypt since an Islamist insurgency erupted two years ago.

In a video posted online by the jihadists, the Croatian identifies himself as Tomislav Salopek working for a French company, and appears kneeling at the feet of a hooded man holding a knife.

Reading from a sheet of paper, he says he will be executed within 48 hours if Egypt\'s government fails to release Muslim women held in prisons.

Salopek, wearing an orange jumpsuit, did not say when the countdown began.

He said he works for French company CGG\'s branch office in Cairo.

He said he was abducted on July 22 by the Sinai Province group, IS\'s Egyptian affiliate based in the Sinai Peninsula.

Formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the group changed its name when it pledged allegiance to IS in November.

Two days after the kidnapping, the Croatian foreign ministry said in a statement that he was abducted as he travelled to work.

\"The armed group stopped his car, forced the driver out and drove away in an unknown direction,\" the ministry said at that time, without elaborating and identifying him only as T.S.

Salopek is the first foreigner to be abducted and threatened with death by militants in Egypt since the Islamist insurgency broke out after the army\'s ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

In December, the Sinai Province claimed the killing last August of an American working for petroleum company Apache.

Morsi, Egypt\'s first freely elected president, was overthrown by then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after mass street protests against his divisive single year in office.

The authorities subsequently launched a sweeping crackdown targeting Morsi\'s supporters in which hundreds of people were killed and thousands jailed, including women and girl students.

Hundreds more were sentenced to death after speedy trials, denounced as the United Nations as \"unprecedented in recent history\".

In retaliation, militants have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers, mostly in the Sinai Peninsula where the Sinai Province group jihadists are waging a campaign against the security forces.

The group has even staged attacks in other cities including the capital.

In July, IS said it was behind a car bomb attack targeting the Italian consulate in downtown Cairo -- the first such attack against a foreign mission in Egypt since jihadists began their campaign following the crackdown on Islamists.

In February, IS released a video showing the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, all but one of them Egyptians, on a beach in neighbouring Libya.

The mass murder of the Egyptian Christians prompted air strikes by Cairo targeting IS inside Libya.

The threat to execute Salopek comes ahead of Thursday\'s inauguration of the \"new Suez Canal\" waterway in the port city of Ismailiya, with hundreds of foreign dignitaries including French President Francois Hollande due to attend.

Completion of the new waterway within just one year is being touted as a landmark achievement, rivalling the digging of the original Suez Canal that opened in 1869 after almost a decade of work.