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ISIS affiliate in Egypt says it has beheaded Croatian captive

CAIRO - The Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula Wednesday released an image over social media that purports to show the beheaded corpse of a Croatian captive who had been held by the extremist group.

Twitter accounts linked to the Islamic State's "State of Sinai" circulated the grisly still photograph on Wednesday afternoon. It appears to show the bloodied body of 30 year-old Tomislav Salopek. A black Islamist flag and a large knife were planted in the sand next to his corpse.

The image was accompanied by a caption in Arabic that said the hostage's death came in response to "his country's participation in the war against the Islamic State."

In a press conference held several hours after the picture surfaced online, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said that his government fears the worst but cannot confirm the hostage's death.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

Salopek was abducted on a highway along the outskirts of Cairo on July 22, 2015. In an initial account released by the Croatian Foreign Ministry, gunmen stopped Salopek's car, pulled out his Egyptian driver, and drove away.

His apparent death comes a week after he appeared in a video released by ISIS. In the video, Salopek, clad in a light beige prison jumpsuit and kneeling in the desert, read from a prepared statement that militants had given him 48 hours to live unless the Egyptian government released "Muslim women" held in jail.

Last Friday, ISIS Sinai-linked social media accounts posted that the countdown until his execution had expired.

The father of two worked in Egypt for the French geophysical services company CGG, which works with oil and gas companies.

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ISIS regularly releases gruesome pictures and videos of captives executed in Iraq and Syria. The group's Libyan affiliate has similarly released footage that shows masked militants beheading Christian captives.

By comparison, ISIS' Sinai branch has largely focused its attacks on Egyptian policemen and soldiers. Though the group has previously released images that show the beheaded corpses of Bedouins accused of collaborating with the Egyptian army, this is the first time a foreigner has been featured in its propaganda.

Salopek's abduction from just outside the capital city of Cairo, and his apparent beheading in the same style as slain Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff, will no doubt rattle Egypt's large Western expatriate community.

This is the second Western foreign worker in Egypt's oil and gas industry whose killing has been claimed by the most dangerous of the country's Islamist insurgent groups. In December 2014, the extremists claimed to have killed American oil worker William Henderson in August of that year and posted photos of his passport and identity documents online.

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