DUBAI • The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group has said it is holding a Chinese and a Norwegian hostage and asked for an unspecified ransom for their release.
In Oslo, Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed that a Norwegian citizen was being held but said that "Norway does not pay ransoms".
The ISIS announcement on Wednesday came in the latest issue of the Sunni Muslim jihadists' English-language magazine Dabiq, distributed on Twitter.
It gave no details about where or when the hostages had been captured or where they were being held. In the case of each man, it published an "advertisement" announcing that he was "for sale".
Under each man's photograph, it says: "To whom it may concern of the Crusaders, pagans, and their allies, as well as what are referred to as human 'rights' organisations, this prisoner was abandoned by his government, which did not do its utmost to purchase his freedom."
At the bottom, it says "whoever would like to pay the ransom for his release and transfer can contact the following telegram number", adding that this is a "limited time offer".
It did not say how much money was being demanded or when the opportunity to pay it would expire. It identified the Chinese hostage as Mr Fan Jinghui, a 50-year- old consultant.
Speaking at a press conference, Ms Solberg named the Norwegian hostage as 48-year-old Ole-Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad, connected with a university in Trondheim, and said he had been abducted soon after arriving in Syria in January.
"This is a serious and complicated affair," she said, adding that "our objective is to bring our fellow citizen home safely to Norway".
"We cannot and will not give in to pressure from terrorists and criminals. Norway does not pay ransoms. That is a principle we cannot give up in meetings with cynical terrorists," she said, adding that ransom payments would raise the risks of other Norwegian citizens being kidnapped.
In response to a query from The Straits Times, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei did not confirm the identity or nationality of the other hostage, but stated: "We have taken note of the reports and are in the process of verifying and understanding the situation. We reiterate, China firmly opposes any violence towards innocent civilians."
Meanwhile, a US-led coalition is poised to intensify the fight against ISIS in response to a spiralling humanitarian crisis in Europe and lacklustre results from a year-long air campaign.
Nations from Europe to Australasia are paving the way for increased military involvement in Operation Inherent Resolve, which aims to degrade and destroy ISIS militants, according to several well-placed officials.
Short-term goals are likely to include hitting ISIS along the front line near Marea, a mission that officials see as essential to maintaining the flow of humanitarian aid as well as arms and supplies to rebels.
But the exact scope of the new commitments and their possible impact remain unclear. The measures are unlikely to include the use of ground troops, something US President Barack Obama has repeatedly ruled out.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS