Norway believes that a Norwegian national held hostage in Syria since January is still alive, Foreign Minister Borge Brende said Thursday.
Islamic State claims it is holding two captives, one Norwegian and one Chinese, and is offering to release them in return for a ransom, the extremist group said in the latest edition of its Dabiq English-language magazine.
The Norwegian has been identified as Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad, who was abducted late January in Syria.
“We are working with the view that Grimsgaard-Ofstad is still alive,” Brende told a news conference in Oslo.
Norwegian authorities based that on analysis of a photo published by the IS magazine and concluded it was likely taken during the past month, he added.
The fact that the hostage crisis became public has made efforts for the 25-30-strong team working on the case “more challenging,” Brende said.
The foreign minister cut short a visit to Belgrade late Wednesday after news of the hostage crisis broke.
Grimsgaard-Ofstad’s family said earlier Thursday they had “no means of raising the huge sum demanded by the hostage-takers.”
“We can only appeal to the hostage-takers to release our son and brother,” Grimsgaard-Ofstad’s family said in a statement conveyed via the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.
It was not clear why Grimsgaard-Ofstad had travelled to Syria, but government sources quoted by Oslo daily VG said they did not believe he had travelled to join Islamic State.
Islamic State posted the names, dates of birth, occupations and educational information of the two captives, along with photos, which were circulating widely on social media as two separate posters.
The posters list an Iraqi telephone number to contact for negotiations.
“Whoever would like to pay the ransom for his release and transfer can contact the following telegram number,” each poster said, saying the offer was for a “limited time.”
The Chinese national was named as Fan Jinghui, born 1965.
The 48-year-old Norwegian’s last Facebook post was on January 24, where he wrote “I am in Idlib, Syria. Going to Hama tomorrow. I finally made it.”
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed Wednesday “a sizeable ransom” had been demanded for a citizen, but added that Oslo “doesn’t pay ransom,” which she said would put other Norwegians at risk.
Finance Minister Siv Jensen on Thursday backed the premier’s stance saying “we can’t give in to pressure from terrorists and criminals,” news agency NTB reported.
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told a press conference on Thursday: “We are verifying the relevant reports. China resolutely opposes all violence against civilians.”
Islamic State has posted online the beheadings of several foreign nationals, including aid workers and journalists, in Syria.
The group and its affiliates in other areas have also posted other gory footage of executions, including mass killings of Christian hostages. The group has released some European hostages after ransoms were paid.