Fears mounted over the fate of a Croatian man abducted last month in Egypt by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group who have threatened to execute him by the end of Friday.
A man identified as Tomislav Salopek, a 30-year-old married father of two, appeared in an Islamic State video released on the Internet Wednesday. He is shown kneeling next to a masked militant holding a knife and a black flag commonly associated with the Islamist group.
Reading from a note, Salopek said his captors would execute him within 48 hours if the Egyptian government did not release female Muslim prisoners, which has been a demand of Islamist militants over the past two years.
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic Friday told the state-run HINA news agency she would talk to her Egyptian counterpart, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, by telephone as the jihadist deadline approached.
"The only thing I can tell you is that this morning I will speak with President el-Sissi, especially about (Tomislav Salopek's kidnapping), unfortunately I cannot reveal other details. But be sure that we are doing everything in our power to resolve the situation," Grabar Kitarovic told HINA in Split.
She called the kidnapping difficult and ugly, and expressed her sympathy to Salopek's family.
"You have to understand that I cannot reveal a lot of details for security reasons and for Mr. Salopek's sake," Grabar Kitarovic added.
Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic, after consulting with her Egyptian counterpart, left for Cairo Thursday to seek a resolution to the case. Pusic traveled with Salopek's wife, Natasa.
Pleads for son's release
Salopek's father, Zlatko, pleaded with the abductors to release his son, according to a report by French news agency AFP.
"I am asking the people who hold my son to let him return to his family, because his motive to go to your homeland was exclusively to earn bread for his children. Nothing else," Zlatko Salopek told AFP Thursday at the family's home in the eastern Croatian town of Vrpolje.
Zlatko Salopek said that as his son was working for a French company, he was looking to French President Francois Hollande and French authorities for help in securing his release.
"I thank France for what has been done so far and ask them to cooperate with Egyptian authorities to save my son," he told AFP.
Meanwhile, it was not clear when or where the video showing Tomislav Salopek was made, or where the militants might be holding him.
The Islamist group published an online countdown to the execution of Tomislav Salopek, which the group set as 5:35 p.m. Central European Time (1635 GMT), according to Croatian media.
The Islamic State group was behind several beheadings last year, including U.S. journalist James Foley, fellow American Steven Sotloff; British aid workers David Haines and Allan Henning; American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig; and Japanese hostages Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto.
Elsewhere, Islamic State militants have abducted dozens of Christian families after seizing a strategically located town in the central Syrian province of Homs, a monitor said on Friday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 230 people were kidnapped, including dozens of Christians, some of whom were taken from a church in Qaryatain, the town captured overnight after heavy fighting with the Syrian army.
Qaryatain is near a road linking the ancient city of Palmyra to the Qalamoun mountains, along the border with Lebanon.
Islamic State has killed members of religious minorities and Sunni Muslims who do not swear allegiance to its self-declared "caliphate." They also consider Christians as infidels.
Last February, the hardline jihadists abducted at least 250 Assyrian Christians, many of whom were children and women, during raids on villages in northeastern Syria, in a mass abduction coinciding with an offensive in the same region by Kurdish forces backed by US led air strikes.
The fate of many of these civilians is unclear, as is that of a number of priests who went missing and are believed to be held by the militants, according to Christian groups.
Some material for this report came from AFP and Reuters.