MOSCOW/BEIRUT: A video message purporting to show a Russian man abducted in Syria set a deadline of five days for the release of a detained Saudi national in exchange for the Russian’s freedom.
The footage posted on YouTube showed a bearded man who identified himself as Sergei Gorbunov and who read a statement saying he would be killed unless he could be swapped for Khaled Suleiman, a Saudi he said had been detained in the city of Hama.
“The Muslims told me that I can be exchanged through the Red Cross. I am being well treated and given food. But if within five days the Saudi Khaled Suleiman is not returned, I will be slaughtered,” he said in a trembling voice on a grainy video that was also aired on state-run Russian TV Thursday.
Russia has been Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally during a conflict that began with a crackdown on protests in 2011 but which has turned into a civil war in which more than 100,000 people have been killed.
An Arabic caption under the video, whose authenticity could not immediately be verified, said the man was captured by the Mujahedeen of Ibn Taymiyyah Brigade.
It said he is asking Russia and Syria to agree a hostage swap between him and Khaled Mohammad Suleiman, who it says was captured in Hama by “the Alawite regime” – a reference to Assad’s government.
“I appeal to presidents of Syria, Russia, the Red Cross ... I have not even started a family at home,” the man said. “I’m scared and I want to return to Russia. Please, someone help me.”
The man said he was seized at Minnigh airport.
The caption accompanying the one-minute video said the man was an engineer who had been working in Syria.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian government.
Russian Embassy officials in Beirut and Damascus said they were checking the reports but had no comment on the matter.
“We have not been approached by any parties at this point and we are not in a position to comment further,” a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross told Reuters.
Russian officials say another Russian, adventurer Konstantin Zhuravlyov, is being held by rebels in Syria after crossing the border from Turkey earlier this month.
Kidnappings have become increasingly common in northern Syria, where rebels have captured swathes of territory but are still fighting the regime forces who retain many towns and cities.
Several Red Cross workers were kidnapped by gunmen who opened fire on their vehicle earlier this month in northwest Syria.