Seven humanitarian volunteers were abducted in northern Syria on Sunday by a group of unknown gunman, raising concerns about the area's relative safety for those, with the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross already calling for their release.
Officials with the ICRC told the BBC six workers and one Red Crescent volunteer were kidnapped in Saraqeb, Idlib after a group of gunmen stopped their convoy, which was heading for Damascus. Syrian state TV said the gunmen opened fire on the four ICRC vehicles before capturing the volunteers and blamed terrorists, the same term the government uses for the rebels, according to the Guardian. The ICRC has no idea who kidnapped their employees. "We don't know who took them. It was unidentified armed men," ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson told the AFP. The group of volunteers were returning to the capital after delivering medical supplies to difficult to reach areas in the northern part of the country.
The northern part of Syria is mostly controlled by rebel groups, but there are allegedly extremists among the factions that operate there. Al-Jazeera reports the area where the kidnapping took place has a dangerous reputation:
The road on which the members were travelling is notorious for kidnappings, Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh reported. “We understand from talking to activists in that area there are a number of armed groups.”
"Hardline Islamist rebels are known to operate in the area," the BBC's Jim Muir reports.
Magne Barth, the head of the ICRC's Syrian delegation, wasted no time calling for their worker's safe release on Sunday. "We call for the immediate and unconditional release of the seven colleagues abducted this morning," Barth said in a statement. "Both the ICRC and the SARC work tirelessly to provide impartial humanitarian assistance for those most in need across Syria on both sides of the front lines, and incidents such as these potentially undermine our capacity to assist those who need us most."
Update: The ICRC reported on Monday morning that three of the six workers had been freed, unharmed. There is still no information on the other three.