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ISIS Affiliate in Egypt Says It Has Beheaded a Croatian Man

CAIRO — The Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State said on Wednesday that it had beheaded Tomislav Salopek, a 30-year-old Croatian expatriate worker who was taken from his car on the outskirts of Cairo last month.

The claim, if confirmed, would represent the first time that the militant group, Sinai Province, had abducted and killed a foreigner during two years of attacks against the government. A photograph posted on Wednesday on a Twitter account associated with Sinai Province appeared to show Mr. Salopek, beheaded and lying in the desert with a knife planted in the sand beside him.

Croatia’s prime minister, Zoran Milanovic, speaking on Wednesday in Zagreb, the capital, said his government could not confirm the death of Mr. Salopek “with 100 percent certainty.” But there seemed little doubt about the identity of the victim.

The gruesome photograph evoked the brutal execution videos disseminated by the Islamic State, suggesting that the Egyptian militants were emulating the tactics of the parent organization. That would represent a major shift in strategy for Sinai Province, which had largely framed its violent campaign as a response to government brutality and had focused most of its attacks on the military and police.

Graphic | Where ISIS Has Directed and Inspired Attacks Around the World At least a dozen countries have had attacks since ISIS began to pursue a global strategy one year ago.

The killing also threatened greater peril for foreigners in Egypt, posing a challenge to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whose government is trying to lure back foreign investment and tourists driven away by years of political turmoil after the country’s 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak. Coming a few days after the government held a lavish celebration for the opening of a new channel of the Suez Canal, it also appeared timed to undermine Mr. Sisi.

After killing hundreds of soldiers and police officers over the past two years, Egyptian militants have recently mounted more ambitious assaults on the military and, increasingly, attacks on civilian targets.

“This has an international effect, more than the other hits” on the army and police, said Nageh Ibrahim, a founder and former member of the Islamic Group, which fought an insurgency against the Egyptian government in the 1990s but later renounced violence.

The violence has come in a flurry since June. Militants have killed Egypt’s top prosecutor, briefly occupied a town in the northern Sinai Peninsula and fired a missile at a naval ship. In the clearest sign of the shifting tactics, militants have also tried to attack two of Egypt’s most popular tourist destinations, the pyramids and the Karnak temple at Luxor, and bombed the Italian Consulate.

Sinai Province is the most active of a number of militant groups that have emerged since the military takeover of the government and ouster of its Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013. Lately, said Omar Ashour, a senior lecturer in security studies at the University of Exeter in Britain, the group “has been steadily expanding the scale and scope and the intensity of its operations — including reaching outside the Sinai.”

It has carried out summary executions of Egyptians in Sinai it has accused of collaborating with the military, and claimed responsibility for the killing of an American oil company worker, William Henderson, during an apparent carjacking last year.

The group “has acquired military abilities that are unprecedented in Egypt’s history of insurgency,” Mr. Ashour added. But even as the group has shifted tactics, the government’s response, never particularly effective, remained unchanged, he said.

“The continuity in the government’s policies is the glorification of the iron fist,” he said.

Mr. Salopek, who was married and had two young children, had been working in Egypt as a subcontractor for a company that works in oil and gas exploration. He was kidnapped on July 22 by gunmen as he was driving on a road southwest of Cairo, the authorities said.

Mr. Salopek appeared in a video distributed by Sinai Province last week, with one of his masked captors standing beside him, saying that he had been told he would be killed within 48 hours unless the Egyptian government released Muslim women from prisons.

The group did not say which prisoners it had in mind, and the deadline passed on Friday.

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(via NY Times)