CAIRO (AFP) - Egypt’s affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) 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 militants, the Croatian identifies himself as Tomislav Salopek working for French company CGG, 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 was abducted on July 22 by the Sinai Province group, ISIS' Egyptian affiliate based in the Sinai Peninsula.
Formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the group changed its name when it pledged allegiance to ISIS in November.
In Zagreb, the foreign ministry said the “Croatian government... is doing its best to solve as soon as possible the difficult situation in which the Croatian citizen T.S. is,” identifying the hostage only with his initials.
“Considering the very difficult and sensitive circumstances and in order not to make a difficult situation worse, we are not able to provide more detailed information at this moment.”
Croatia’s Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic will travel to the Egyptian capital on Thursday, the ministry later added in another statement.
“Pusic is in contact with the Egyptian foreign minister and in agreement with him and his recommendations she will go to Cairo,” it said.
Two days after the kidnapping, the foreign ministry said a Croatian had been abducted as he travelled to work.
CGG confirmed that the man in the video was one of its “sub-contracted staff working on a land acquisition seismic crew” and that he had been “kidnapped on July 22nd while in transit in Cairo”.
“He is the hostage appearing on the video released today by the Sinai Province of Islamic State,” it said, without naming him.
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 two years ago.
In December, the Sinai Province claimed that it had killed in August 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.
The group has also staged attacks elsewhere, including the capital.
In July, ISIS said it was behind a car bomb attack targeting the Italian consulate in Cairo – the first such attack against a foreign mission in Egypt since militants began their campaign following the crackdown on Islamists.
In February, ISIS released a video showing the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, all but one of them Egyptians, in neighbouring Libya.
That massacre prompted air strikes by Cairo targeting ISIS in Libya.
The threat to execute Salopek comes ahead of Thursday’s inauguration of the “new” Suez Canal in the port city of Ismailiya, with hundreds of foreign dignitaries, including French President Francois Hollande, due to attend.