ATbar "Sinai Province" Group Beheads Croatian worker in Egypt
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"Sinai Province" Group Beheads Croatian worker in Egypt

23/08/2015 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

Tomislav Salopek, a 31-year-old Croatian was reportedly abducted in western Cairo in July 2015 and beheaded by the "Sinai Province" group, the Egyptian branch of ISIS, formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.

Ardiseis Egypt, a unit of French firm CGG, which specializes in oil and gas exploration, said one of its staff members had been abducted on July 22 while travelling to Cairo. Salopek was working as a topographer in Egypt with French geoscience company CGG.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, instructed "Sinai Province" to carry out attacks against Western targets, especially those affiliated with countries participating in the war against ISIS.

Salopek is the second victim of the ISIS anti-Western campaign in Egypt. The abduction represents a continued threat to foreigners in Egypt.

The time of the abduction and beheading were chosen to embarrass the Egyptian government at a time when various heads of state and top officials were taking part in the New Suez Canal opening ceremony.[1]

The Abduction

Salopek was abducted on July 22, 2015, while travelling to Cairo on the Oasis Road, west of Cairo. During the kidnapping Salopek’s driver was asked to leave the car that then drove away towards an unknown destination, leaving him unharmed.[2]

Two separate groups were involved in the kidnapping of the Croatian, the first group, currently unknown, kidnapped him and asked for a ransom before handing him over to the Islamic State group.

Croatia's Foreign Minister, Vesna Pusic said the captors requested money from CGG. Then contact was broken and on August 5, 2015, a video emerged showing Salopek as a hostage of the Islamic State branch in Egypt.[3]

There has been speculation about where the militants held the Croatian hostage, with some reports focusing on restive north Sinai, the main stronghold of the ISIS affiliate "Sinai Province" group.

But an Egyptian security official said the likelihood of that was small since Salopek was taken near Cairo and at a time when Egyptian forces are on high alert in Sinai and the Red Sea area because of the recent inauguration of the extension to the Suez Canal.[4]

The Deadline

That ultimatum was issued on the eve of Egypt’s inauguration of the Suez Canal extension, a project hailed by the government as a turning point for the Egyptian economy.

The militant organization gave the Egyptian government a 48-hour deadline. ISIS released the ultimatum in a video clip where Salopek, wearing an orange jumpsuit, and kneeling at the feet of a hooded man who was holding a knife, read the group’s demands in English in an unknown desert location.[5] Salopek said the group would kill him in 48 hours if Muslim women in Egyptian jails were not freed.[6]

Egyptian authorities have imprisoned many Muslim women since 2013, accusing them of working for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned in the country.[7]

The group published on the internet a digital clock with a countdown to the expiration of the ultimatum. A statement on the background reads: "A message to the Egyptian government: Release the [female] prisoners or the Sinai Province fighters will kill me."[8]

The Response by the Croatian Government and Salopek’s Family

According to the Croatian government, it is the first case of a kidnapping of a Croatian citizen in a foreign country.[9]

Shortly after the abduction, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said she would talk to Egyptian President Abdel- Fattah El-Sisi by telephone to solve the issue. "Rest assured that we can actually do everything in our power to resolve this," she was quoted by local Croatian media as telling reporters in the city of Split.[10] The Croatian foreign minister had visited Cairo in an attempt to find a way to end Salopek's ordeal.

Salopek’s father urged the kidnappers to release his 31-year-old son, a father of two.              "I am asking the people who hold my son to let him return to his family, because his motive to go to your homeland was exclusively to earn bread for his children. Nothing else", said Zlatko Salopek.

After an online image, was circulated, showing the beheaded body of Tomislav Salopek, Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic expressed her deepest sympathy with Salopek’s family and friends but noted that his death had yet to be confirmed.

She said: "In these moments of deep uncertainty, I am sympathizing with the family, parents and friends of Tomislav Salopek." She also added that she wants to "firmly state that, as long as there is a glimmer of hope, one little crumb of chance that Tomislav is alive, we are continuing to work, continuing the search and continuing efforts to save his life."[11]

The Egyptian Response

The Egyptian government had publicly said it was doing its best to secure Salopek's release. Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told his visiting Croatian counterpart on August 7, 2015, that Cairo is sparing no effort to retrieve the Croatian abducted by Islamic State militants. "Egyptian authorities are making intensive efforts to try to identify the whereabouts of the hostage. Egypt will spare no effort to protect the Croatian hostage.[12]

Egypt’s authorities have banned all movement of foreign workers outside of armed convoys, referring primarily to workers in the oil and gas sectors working far outside Egypt’s cities. [13]

After the beheading of Salopek, Egypt's Al-Azhar institute, the top center of religious learning for Sunni Muslims, condemned the killing, calling it a "demonic act" contrary to all religions. It also offered condolences to the Croatian people and government and to Salopek's family, calling on Egyptian authorities to go after the culprits and bring them to justice. The statement also said that under Islamic law, or Shariah, it is forbidden to shed the blood of foreigners, adding that what the "terrorists" did was a betrayal of the Prophet Muhammad and all Muslims.[14]

The Claim of the Decapitation

IS-affiliated Sinai Province announced on August 12, 2015, that it killed the Croatian hostage Tomislav Salopek.  The Sinai Province group published a graphic photo showing the victim's decapitated body on IS-affiliated Twitter accounts. The photo, carried the following caption in Arabic:

"The Croatian captive has been killed because his country participated in the war against the Islamic State. The deadline has passed and the Egyptian apostate government as well as his own government abandoned him."[15]

The photo also included screenshots from news websites displaying headlines like "Croatia supports Egypt's war on terrorism" and "Croatia asserts its continual support for Kurdistan.”[16]

The ISIS radio station Al-Bayan announced on August 13, 2015, that its Egyptian affiliate killed Salopek: "soldiers of the Caliphate killed Salopek, whose country is participating in the war against the Islamic State." It said the killing came after a deadline passed for "the renegade Egyptian government" to meet his captors' demands to free jailed women.[17]

ISIS in Sinai and its Overarching Effects

"Sinai Province", formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, pledged allegiance to the ISIS group in November 2014 and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, instructed " Sinai Province"  to carry out attacks against the embassies, nationals and interests of the countries participating in the international coalition against ISIS. [18]

Foreigners have largely been spared from the violence in Egypt but since the group became a branch of ISIS, it has changed its policy and started to attack foreign targets in Egypt. Following an increase in attacks in June and July 2015, security has been ramped up at Egyptian government and foreign buildings in Cairo.[19]

Salopek was the second foreigner to be killed by the militant group, as the group also claimed responsibility for the abduction and killing of US oil worker William Henderson at his work site in Egypt’s western desert, in late December 2014.

On June 10,2015, two terrorists were killed and another wounded in a foiled attack at the Karnak Temple, one of Luxor’s tourist landmarks.  Egyptian media reported that the three militants were heavily armed, possessing nine hand-grenades, three machine guns with 300 rounds of ammunition, two explosive belts and further small bombs. The attackers’ plan was apparently to begin randomly shooting tourists when their buses arrived, and then potentially to blow themselves up after they were arrested to inflict further casualties.                                                            

On July 11, 2015, a car bomb hit the Italian Consulate in downtown Cairo, killing one civilian. The “Islamic State in Egypt” later claimed responsibility for the explosion on Twitter, saying that “Islamic State soldiers exploded a booby-trapped car carrying 450 [kilograms] of explosive charges targeting the HQ of the Italian Consulate in Cairo”

The death of a foreign worker abducted in Egypt’s “mainland” undermines recent attempts by Egypt’s military-backed government to project an aura of security and renewal after years of unrest.

Egypt is trying to increase foreign investments and tourism and the recent attacks were almost certainly intended to hit the Egyptian economy by directly harming foreign investments. It’s going to make it difficult to bring foreigners who want to work as part of that investment because of concerns over risk.[20]

Significantly damaging these sectors would undermine the government’s financial stability and hopes of any economic recovery, one of President al-Sisi’s stated main goals.[21]

Notes



[1] Doaa El Bey, Croatian man’s fate unknown, Al Ahram Weekly, No.1258, 13 August, 2015 .

[2] Ibid.

[3] Croatia says 2 groups were involved in hostage's abduction in Egypt, ahramonline, August 13, 2015.

[4] International and local condemnation of reported IS killing of Croat in Egypt ,ahramonline, August 12, 2015.

[5] Egyptian IS-affiliated group claims decapitation of Croatian hostage, ahramonline, August 12, 2015.

[6] ISIL's Egypt affiliate 'beheads Croatian hostage', Al Jazeera, August 12, 2015.

[7]  Concern for Croatian as ISIL execution deadline looms, Al Jazeera, August 7, 2015.

[8] Egypt 'sparing no effort' to protect Croatian abducted by IS militants as ultimatum ends, ahramonline, August 7, 2015.

[9] Concern for Croatian as ISIL execution deadline looms, Al Jazeera, August 7, 2015.

[10] Egypt 'sparing no effort' to protect Croatian abducted by IS militants as ultimatum ends, ahramonline, August 7, 2015.

[11] International and local condemnation of reported IS killing of Croat in Egypt ,ahramonline, August 12, 2015.

[12] Egypt 'sparing no effort' to protect Croatian abducted by IS militants as ultimatum ends, ahramonline, August 7, 2015.

[13] Jared Malsim, Egypt’s Security In Question After ISIS Beheading of Croatian, Time, August 12, 2015.

[14] International and local condemnation of reported IS killing of Croat in Egypt ,ahramonline, August 12, 2015.

[15] Egyptian IS-affiliated group claims decapitation of Croatian hostage, ahramonline, August 12, 2015.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Croatia says 2 groups were involved in hostage's abduction in Egypt, ahramonline, August 13, 2015.

[18] IS threat led to closure of Western embassies in Egypt, Al monitor, December 16, 2015.

[19] Jared Malsim, Egypt’s Security In Question After ISIS Beheading of Croatian, Time, August 12, 2015.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Muhammad Mansour, Egypt’s Growing Militant Threat, Terrorism Monitor ,The Jamestown Foundation, July 24, 2015.