The latest issue of the ISIS online magazine, Dabiq, includes photos of two men it claims to have taken hostage and provides a telegram number for “whoever would like to pay the ransom” for their release.
According to the Associated Press, the two captives are identified as 48-year-old Norwegian Ole Johan Grinsgaard-Ofstad of Oslo, and 50-year-old Fan Jinghui of Beijing. They are depicted in yellow prison jumpsuits, a bit different from the orange jumpsuits ISIS normally forces on its captives. Prisoners of the Iraqi government wear yellow jumpsuits, and ISIS has dressed prisoners executed in Iraq that way in some of its murder videos.
CNN observes that the captions beneath the men’s photographs translate as “FOR SALE” signs, and a warning beneath the phone number for ransom payments reads, “NOTE: This is a limited time offer.”
The UK Express reports the text beneath the picture of Grinsgaard-Ofstad read, “To whom it may concern of the crusaders, pagans and their allies, as well as what are referred to as human ‘rights’ organizations, this Norwegian prisoner was abandoned by his government, which did not do its utmost to purchase his freedom.”
The text beneath the photos of Fan Jinghui accuses the Chinese government of “abandoning” him.
Although ISIS did not provide details of how or where the men were captured, the Norwegian government has confirmed that one of their citizens was kidnapped at the end of January and passed around between several groups. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said he is now believed to be in ISIS hands, and reported several previous ransom demands from the terror state.
The Express reviewed some Facebook posts from Ole Johan Grinsgaard-Ofstad that would appear to support the idea he traveled to Syria in late January and was kidnapped there.
“This is a matter that the government is taking very seriously. We neither can nor will give in to pressure from terrorists and criminals. Norway does not pay ransom,” Solberg declared. “This is a principle we cannot depart from in the face of cynical terrorists. Payment of ransom would increase the risk that other Norwegian nationals will be taken hostage.”
Solberg went on to say that her government’s goal is “to get our citizen home,” but added, “Let me be very clear, this is a very demanding case.”
The Sydney Morning Herald describes Fan’s kidnapping as “the first public ransom demand made for a Chinese national; a move which will now place Beijing’s long-held strategy of non-interference in the Middle East squarely in the spotlight.”
“It’s China’s worst fear in a way,” China expert Mathieu Duchatel told the SMH. “China’s policy has remained to avoid becoming a target, that has been the policy in Pakistan; that has been the policy in Afghanistan, towards Iraq and Syria. It has been increasingly difficult to maintain and there’s a vicious circle of events related to Islamic terrorism involving China that [means] the stakes are getting higher.”
The Sydney Morning Herald observes that while China might be trying to stay out of Middle Eastern messes, ISIS has already declared them to be an enemy of the “caliphate” due to China’s treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority.
China has not made an official statement about Fan’s kidnapping, although the SMH reports that the information ISIS provided about its purported captive appears to be accurate, and people who know him say the photos published in Dabiq appear to be genuine. It is speculated that the Chinese government might be working quietly behind the scenes to secure his release.