Syrian militants demand proof of comrade’s life, threaten to kill Russian captiveMembers of a jihadist group are seen in Syria, at the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo. (AFP Photo / Karam Al-Masri)
A Syrian rebel group holding a Russian citizen hostage has demanded proof from Damascus regarding an imprisoned member of the group that their comrade is alive. Only then will they agree to negotiate prisoner exchange.
The Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar group threatens to kill the hostage, Sergey Gorbunov, unless the condition is met, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported on Sunday, citing a Syrian security official.
Haled Mohammad Suleiman was seized in October after attacking a checkpoint at the entrance to the city of Hama, and is currently in a Syrian prison. Their fellow militants want his freedom in exchange for Gorbunov, who was kidnapped in October in the vicinity of Hama.
On Wednesday last week, a video allegedly showing imprisoned Gorbunov was uploaded by the terrorist group. In the video the captured Russian engineer is calling on Russian and Syrian authorities to exchange him for Suleiman, the exchange to be mediated by the Red Cross.
“They treat me well, they give me food,” the man says. “But if in five days I’m not exchanged for Khaled Suleiman from Saudi Arabia – he was arrested in Hama, Syria – they will run me through,” said a bearded, crop-haired man of about 40 years of age, whose identity could not immediately be verified.
Suleiman’s group, the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, reportedly carries out its operations mostly out of Aleppo. It consists almost entirely of hired guns pouring in from other Islamic states and is notorious in Syria for its particularly violent approach, frequently uploading execution videos.
The Russian embassy in Damascus is in constant contact with Syrian authorities, working on freeing Gorbunov.
Earlier in October, another Russian citizen, a traveler named Konstantin Zhuravlev, 32, was apparently abducted by an Islamist rebel group, which is accusing him of spying for the Syrian government.
These developments come four days after Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, expressed outrage at 19 separate rebel groups' decision to boycott the upcoming Geneva-2 peace conference on Syria.
This second attempts at a peaceful resolution to the conflict is slated for November and was brokered by Russia and the United States. But plans for negotiations have frequently been upset by rebels demanding the removal of President Bashar Assad from the equation, in exchange for participation in the talks.
"It is outrageous that some of these extremist, terrorist organizations fighting government forces in Syria are starting to make threats," Lavrov said. "The threats are directed at those who have the courage to attend the proposed Geneva conference being offered by Russia and the United States with the entire world's support."
Lavrov has called on those who have influence on the Syrian opposition to persuade them to attend.
Since its start in March 2011, the Syrian conflict has displaced around two million refugees and taken the lives of more than 110,000 people, according to UN estimates.