Foreigners held or missing in Syria

BEIRUT: A number of foreigners remain missing in war-torn Syria, even after the announced fall of the Islamic State group “caliphate”, following years of abductions and executions.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Wednesday the release of an Italian hostage, Alessandro Sandrini, seized in 2016 by unknown kidnappers in the southern Turkish city of Adana and taken to Syria.

IS’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” which spanned large swathes of Iraq and Syria for years collapsed in March, but the jihadists still reportedly have fighters scattered in hard-to-reach areas.

Here is a list of other foreign nationals still believed to be held or missing in war-torn Syria, whether detained by IS or other parties:

Louisa Akavi 
The New Zealand nurse was snatched along with Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes in 2013 while travelling in a Red Cross convoy delivering supplies to Idlib, in northwestern Syria.

The ICRC has said it believed they were abducted by IS, two years into the civil war and the year before the extremists declared a cross-border “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

US-backed forces last month expelled IS from their last patch of that proto-state in eastern Syria, but the jihadists maintain a presence in the war-torn country and neighbouring Iraq.

New Zealand has said it disagreed with making the abduction public, but confirmed it had dispatched a special forces unit to Syria to search for Akavi.

The New York Times reported the ICRC had reason to believe she was alive, because at least two people described seeing her in December at a clinic in the eastern village of Sousa, one of the last villages held by IS.

John Cantlie 
The British journalist was detained by IS on November 22, 2012.

He was kidnapped along with US reporter James Foley, who became the first of a string of foreign hostages to be slain in gruesome propaganda videos.

Cantlie however appeared in several subsequent videos released by IS in which he delivered jihadist propaganda to the camera in the style of a news report.

His last appearance was during the battle for Mosul in late 2016. He looked gaunt and tired.

In February, media reports quoting Britain’s Security Minister Ben Wallace said Cantlie could still be alive.

But the Free John Cantlie support group on Twitter said those reports were not substantiated, although they hoped they turned out to be true.

Austin Tice
The 36-year-old American journalist was kidnapped in Syria in August 2012 by unidentified armed men after reporting south of Damascus.

His kidnapping was never claimed by any organisation.

US special envoy for hostage affairs, Robert O’Brien, said in November there was every reason to believe he was alive and still detained in Syria.

In December, Tice’s father said he believed the Syrian government was best placed to help bring the journalist home.

Grigory Tsurkanu and Roman Zabolotny 
The pair, believed to be Russians, were captured in September or early October 2017 in Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria.

Moscow never confirmed the identity of the two men, who appeared in an IS propaganda video. A Cossack group identified them as two veterans from southern Russia in their late 30s.

Some Russian media reports said they were mercenaries for a shadowy outfit called Wagner which has been sending ex-servicemen to fight alongside Syrian regime forces.

A Russian newspaper said they were executed but their deaths were never confirmed.

Sky news team 
Mauritanian national Ishak Moctar and Lebanese citizen Samir Kassab went missing on October 15, 2013, along with their Syrian driver, near the northern city of Aleppo.

They were believed held by IS but their fate was never confirmed and they are still considered missing. The pair were believed to still be alive in 2016 and held in the then de facto Syrian IS capital of Raqa.

Paolo Dall’Oglio 
The Jesuit priest known to most as Father Paolo was a well-known figure in Syria, where he lived for years in the 6th century Deir Mar Musa monastery that he renovated, north of Damascus.

He was exiled from Syria in 2012 for meeting with members of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and kidnapped by IS near Raqa when he returned the following year.

He was reported to have been executed and his body dumped in a crevice soon after, but his death was never confirmed by any party