NGO: Jihadists in Syria behind kidnapping of ICRC workers

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Jihadists in Syria were behind the kidnapping of seven aid workers in the northwest of the country, a monitoring group said Monday, shortly after four of them were freed.

“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has freed... International Committee of the Red Cross workers they abducted yesterday on the road linking Saraqeb and Sirmin” in Idlib province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The ICRC on Monday said three of its staff as well as a volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had been released and were safe, but did not say who was thought to have been behind the kidnapping.

The ICRC has not revealed details of the aid workers’ nationalities, though it earlier said that most of the group were Syrian

ISIL, an al-Qaeda affiliate, has operated in Syria since late spring this year and is fiercely opposed to any kind of Western presence in areas which it controls.

Kidnapping has become an increasing problem in Syria, with journalists and aid workers frequently targeted in rebel-held parts of the country, largely in the north.

The ICRC has some 30 expatriate staff in Syria and 120 local employees. They work hand in hand with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, one of the few organizations able to deliver aid nationwide.

Security is a constant concern as aid workers go back and forth across the often-fluid front lines in the war between a range of rebel groups and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Twenty-two Red Crescent volunteers have been killed since the conflict erupted in March 2011, the ICRC’s Damascus spokesman Simon Schorno told AFP, adding that he did not immediately have a figure for the number active in the field.

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