ISIS in Egypt threatens to kill Croat hostage

An ISIS affiliate releases a video threatening to kill a Croatian hostage

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An Islamic State of Iraq and Syria affiliate released a video Wednesday threatening to kill a Croatian hostage if Egyptian authorities do not release "Muslim women" held in prison within 48 hours, a day before the country plans to unveil a highly promoted new extension of the Suez Canal.

The video, circulated on social media by ISIS sympathizers, shows a man wearing a yellow jumpsuit kneeling in the desert before a knife-wielding masked man in military fatigues. A black Islamic flag often used by the extremists flutters next to him. The video identifies itself as coming from the media arm of the ISIS affiliate in Egypt's lawless Sinai Peninsula.

Reading calmly from a note in English, the man identifies himself as Tomislav Salopek, a married, 30-year-old father of two, adding that ISIS fighters captured him on July 22. If Egyptian authorities do not act, he said, "the soldiers from Wilayet Sina will kill me." Wilayet Sina is the Arabic phrase for the Egyptian group calling itself the Sinai Province of the Islamic State.

It was not clear where the video was shot. The Associated Press could not independently verify the footage, entitled "A Message to the Egyptian Government," though it was shot in the style of previous ISIS propaganda videos in which they threaten and behead hostages.

The reference to "Muslim women" apparently referred to Islamists who have been arrested in a broad government crackdown on dissent. Egypt, a majority Muslim country, now holds thousands of Islamists and suspected supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group in prison following the 2013 military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Croatia's Foreign Ministry late last month said that one of its nationals with the same initials had been kidnapped in Cairo on July 22 while on the way to work. The company, which Salopek identified as France's CGG Ardiseis, works in the oil and gas sector and has a branch office in Cairo's leafy suburb of Maadi, where many expats and diplomats live.

Calls to CGG Ardiseis' office in Cairo were not immediately answered.

Croatian state television read out a statement on air Wednesday night saying the government was "doing all it can to promptly resolve the difficult situation," without elaborating. Croatian authorities could not be immediately reached and its embassy in Cairo was closed on Wednesday, which is a public holiday in Croatia celebrating its independence in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

An Egyptian security official said last month that Salopek is a petroleum engineer who was abducted by gunmen while driving on a highway west of Cairo. His car, its driver and the man's belongings were left behind, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists. He had said that a police investigation was underway.

Egypt has seen an increase in violence since Morsi's ouster, with attacks by suspected Islamic extremists in both the Sinai Peninsula and the mainland focusing primarily on security forces.

Foreign interests also have been targeted increasingly, including the Italian Consulate, which was hit with a car bomb last month. That came just days after another bomb killed Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in an upscale Cairo neighborhood. However, this is the first time the local ISIS affiliate released a video showing a kidnapped foreigner in Egypt, a major escalation as the country tries to rebuild its crucial tourism industry after years of unrest following the 2011 revolt against autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Last December, the affiliate claimed responsibility for the killing of an American oil worker with Texas-based energy company Apache Corp. Apache said that one of its supervisors had been killed in an apparent carjacking in the Western Desert, part of Egypt's mainland.

The Egyptian government had no immediate comment on the video Wednesday. Thursday, Egypt plans to unveil an $8.5 billion extension of the Suez Canal, a major event the government hopes will show the world it has recovered from the years of turmoil it has faced.

ISIS holds about a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in its self-declared "caliphate." In Syria, ISIS militants have killed foreign journalists and aid workers, starting with American journalist James Foley in August last year.

Foley's taped beheading was followed by the killing of American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, American aid worker Peter Kassig, as well as Japanese nationals Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto.

In Sinai, ISIS has launched increasingly sophisticated attacks in recent months that have killed dozens of Egyptian soldiers and police. Government forces have been carrying out an intensified hunt for the militants in several northern towns in the peninsula.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Iraqi forces battled Islamic State militants Wednesday in western Anbar province, leaving at least 17 troops dead, officials said.

A police officer, an army officer and a Sunni tribal fighter said the deadliest clashes took place east of ISIS-held Ramadi, where six soldiers, four Sunni tribal fighters and two police officers were killed. Nine other troops were wounded, they said.

They say another five soldiers were killed and nine wounded when militants attacked troops near the Habbaniyah military base, where dozens of American advisers are stationed. The Iraqi officials all spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to talk to journalists.

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