Isil claims it has beheaded Croatian hostage in Egypt
Photo ‘of body’ circulated on jihadi social media sites
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) loyalists appears to have murdered its first western hostage in Egypt.
Tomislav Salopek (31) was kidnapped in the early hours of July 22 as his car left Cairo. He reappeared last week in a video released by the extremist group.
Yesterday, a photograph showing what appeared to be Mr Salopek’s decapitated body was circulating on the social media accounts of Isil loyalists. The image could not immediately be verified.
The Isil-affiliated group, known as Sinai Province, had set a 48-hour deadline last Wednesday for Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to release female Muslim prisoners, warning that they would kill Mr Salopek if their demands were not met.
Last night Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said authorities were examining the image.
“It is my duty to break the silence and tell the Croatian public that we cannot confirm with 100pc certainty that it is true what we see, and which is horrifying,” he told a news conference.
“I don’t know if we will be able to do it in the coming days, but what we see does not look good ... I’m afraid that for the first time, what has happened to the citizens of other countries has happened to a Croatian citizen.”
Isil sympathisers shared the macabre countdown on social media as the deadline expired. Several accounts carried images of knives alongside the message: “Croatia participated in the war with the Islamic State”.
Croatia has played a minor role in the military effort to defeat the extremist group, sending weapons to Kurdish forces in Iraq.
Mr Salopek, an employee of the French geophysical services company CGG, was kidnapped from his car in the early hours of July 22.
An early official account of the incident said that militants had pulled Mr Salopek’s Egyptian driver out of the vehicle before driving away with the Croatian national inside.
The car was found a short distance away, with Mr Salopek’s belongings still inside.
Mokhtar Awad, an expert on Egyptian jihadist groups at the Centre for American Progress, said the Sinai Province militants had used the kidnapping to attract local support.
Although Sinai Province has killed hundreds of security personnel across the restive Sinai peninsula, it has failed to launch any attacks on the Egyptian mainland since pledging allegiance to Isil last year.
The reference to Egypt’s female prisoners, some of whom have faced sexual violence in custody, was intended to strike a chord with disaffected young Islamists, Mr Awad said.
Mr Salopek’s murder will send a chill through the community of western oil and gas workers who work in the Egyptian capital.
In March, Egypt and international companies announced plans for billions of dollars worth of energy investments at a conference intended to kick-start the economy after four years of disarray.
But an upsurge in militant attacks in recent months has prompted western business owners and diplomatic officials to express a rising sense of disquiet at security conditions in the country.
Mr Salopek’s kidnapping underscored the extent of the challenge facing Mr Sisi’s government as it struggles to contain the rising threat from Isil-linked groups and smaller, less radical cells of disaffected young men.
When he was elected last year, Mr Sisi promised to restore security and economic prosperity to Egypt after four years of political turmoil.
On Thursday, he promised to win the fight against the militants as he spoke at the opening of his ambitious pet project, a major extension to the Suez Canal. Last December, Sinai Province said it was behind the killing of an American petroleum engineer whose body was found in a car in a desert region almost four months earlier.
The group has also posted videos appearing to show the killings of Egyptians it accuses of helping the Egyptian government or Israel. (© Daily Telegraph, London)