Red Cross: 4 of 7 workers kidnapped in Syria freed

Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) take position in Idlib in northwestern Syria on February 22, 2012. Two foreign journalists were killed as Syrian forces pounded the rebel city of Homs, activists said, while calls mounted for a truce to allow in humanitarian aid. BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

GENEVA The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that a Red Crescent volunteer and three of six kidnapped Red Cross staffers have been released to safety in Syria.

Gunmen abducted a team of seven workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross after stopping their convoy early Sunday in northern Syria, a spokesman said, in the latest high-profile kidnapping in the country's civil war.

Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, said the assailants snatched the seven aid workers from their convoy near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province around 11:30 a.m. local time as the team was returning to Damascus. He declined to provide the nationalities of the six ICRC employees.

While it's unclear who is responsible for the abduction, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria - the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, or ISIS - has warned Western aid workers that they are at the risk of kidnapping or death if they enter Syria.

A U.S. State Department official told CBS News' Margaret Brennan in August that some of our partners "have reported receiving a warning from ISIS that Western aid workers would be in danger."

Syria's state news agency, quoting an anonymous official, said the gunmen opened fire on the ICRC team's four vehicles before seizing the Red Cross workers. The news agency blamed "terrorists," a term the government uses to refer to those opposed to President Bashar Assad.

Schorno said the team of seven had been in the field since Oct. 10 to assess the medical situation in the area and to look at how to provide medical aid. He said the part of northern Syria where they were seized "by definition is a difficult area to go in," and the team was traveling with armed guards.

Much of the countryside in Idlib province, as well as the rest of northern Syria, has fallen over the past year into the hands of rebels, many of them Islamic extremists, and kidnappings have become rife, particularly of aid workers and foreign journalists.

Press freedom advocate Reporters without Borders calls Syria "the most dangerous country in the world" for journalists, with 25 reporters killed and at least 33 imprisoned since the anti-Assad uprising began in March 2011.

The conflict also has taken a toll on the aid community. The ICRC said in August that 22 Syrian Red Crescent volunteers have been killed in the country since the conflict began. Some were deliberately targeted, while others killed in crossfire, the group said.

Syria's bloody conflict has killed more than 100,000 people, forced more than 2 million Syrians to flee the country and caused untold suffering - psychological, emotional and physical - across the nation.

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