Captive Russian engineer executed at hands of radical Islamists

In October of last year, the rebels released a video of a person who called himself Sergei Gorbunov, a Russian citizen. Source: Slava Petrakina

In October of last year, the rebels released a video of a person who called himself Sergei Gorbunov, a Russian citizen. Source: Slava Petrakina

A video has been making the rounds on the internet depicting the execution of Russian engineer Sergei Gorbunov, who was kidnapped in Syria. According to some reports, the engineer was murdered by a compatriot from the former USSR – Georgia native Omar al-Shishani. There are fears another Russian might also possibly be in captivity – a traveler from Tomsk named Konstantin Zhuravlev.

Islamic radicals have released a video on the internet showing the execution in Syria of missing Russian engineer Sergei Gorbunov, who had been held captive for over a year.

According to some reports, Gorbunov was shot back in the spring, when Islamist rebels dragged him out of his cell, shot him, filmed it, and showed it to other hostages as a scare tactic. The video of the shooting was only made public on Oct. 27.

The New York Times writes that Gorbunov was executed because, in the words of the rebels, he was “the least marketable commodity.” In other words, the rebels would not have been able to secure a good ransom for him from the Russian government.

“Sometime this spring, the masked men came for him. They dragged the terrified prisoner outside and shot him. They filmed his body. Then they returned to show the footage to the surviving hostages. ‘This,’ they said, ‘is what will happen to you if your government doesn’t pay,’” the New York Times wrote about the Russian engineer’s last moments, citing other captives who were incarcerated with Gorbunov but later released.

In October of last year, the rebels released a video of a person who called himself Sergei Gorbunov, a Russian citizen. In the video, the engineer reads out a text asking the Russian and Syrian authorities to use the International Committee of the Red Cross to exchange him for Saudi citizen Khaled Suleiman, who had been detained by the Syrian authorities in the central city of Hama. As the newspaper Vzglyad reported at the time, an extremist group that called itself the Muhajireen Brigade (‘Katibat al-Muhajireen’ in Arabic) took responsibility for his kidnapping.

The visibly frightened man, who looked to be between 40 and 50 years old, stammered throughout his reading of the message, during which he says that he is a Russian engineer who was kidnapped at the airport near Hama after arriving in Syria for work. Damascus did not comment on the video. 

“I am being treated well, given food. But if they don’t exchange me for Khaled Suleiman from Saudi Arabia within five days, they will slaughter me. I am addressing the presidents of Syria, Russia, the Red Cross… I’m very afraid,” Gorbunov says in the video.

As reported, Gorbunov and hostages from other countries were held in the city of Ar-Raqqah, which is functioning as a ‘capital’ of sorts for the Islamic State radical group (ISIS).

The rebels previously uploaded a photograph of another Russian hostage – a traveler from the Siberian city of Tomsk named Konstantin Zhuravlev, who was kidnapped on Oct. 12, 2013. Zhuravlev is sitting in an armchair holding a paper with ‘19/10/2013’ written on it. Near him are two phones, a GoPro camera, and his passport opened at the front page. The caption, written in Arabic, says, “A new photograph of a Russian spy held by Liwa al-Tawhid (roughly translated as ‘the Banner of Monotheism’, it appears to be the name of a group).”

Zhuravlev was hitchhiking to the Eastern Sahara, where he planned to participate in a seven-day meditation course. He was last heard from near the Syrian city of Aleppo; there has been no news of him in the last year. The filmed executions of several foreign hostages, including American journalist James Foley, have appeared online in recent months.

In March, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it would continue to make efforts to free Zhuravlev and Gorbunov. However, negotiations have yet to lead anywhere.

Omar the Chechen’s victims

According to media reports, the Muhajireen Brigade, an ally of ISIS, kidnapped the Russians. The group, made up of rebels from various countries in the Islamic world, is notorious for its extreme cruelty. Its members are primarily active around Aleppo, where the Syrian army is currently involved in heavy fighting with rebels.

“Muhajireen means ‘foreign fighters’. The group mostly constitutes Chechens, Tatars, and Turks. They were once part of ISIS but later withdrew from it,” Mahmoud Hamza, a member of the Committee to Support the Syrian Revolution (the moderate Syrian opposition), told Vzglyad. “If he was in their hands, he was definitely sentenced to death beforehand. The biggest scum fight in that group,” he added.

Another American publication, Long War Journal, reported that the Muhajireen Brigade was created last year by Georgian Tarkhan Batirashvili, who is more popularly known as Omar al-Shishani, or Omar the Chechen. The Muhajireen Brigade joined up with other units last May and renamed itself the Army of Emigrants and Supporters (‘Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar’ in Arabic)

Batirashvili even promised to get revenge on Russia and the supporters of Georgian ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili, during whose rule he was kicked out of the Georgian army. According to various reports, the group has anywhere from 1,000 to 25,000 members.

‘They are absolutely ruthless’

Georgy Mirsky, a senior research fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Vzglyad that Gorbunov’s death was to be expected.

“Now that two Americans and then an Englishman have been beheaded, no one in the world should remain under any illusion as to what kind of people these are. These are bandits and mercenaries who want to follow the precepts of Osama bin Laden. They want a battle in order to create a caliphate, as they are saying themselves, from Andalusia to Tatarstan. They are absolutely ruthless,” he told Vzglyad.

The prevailing opinion that Russia can have no issues with the Islamists because Russia is not participating in the coalition is deeply deluded, Mirsky said.

“I talked to someone 15 years ago who studied their ideology. He explained that even Russians are enemies to the Islamists, because in the Caucasus they go against people who fight under the slogan ‘Allahu Akbar.’ Are Russians much better than the English or a Zionist in their point of view? Even though Russia isn’t participating in the coalition, it doesn’t matter to those bandits. They’ll come here sooner or later. You can say a lot about the Americans, but the Americans don’t send suicide bombers to blow up the Moscow metro. They [the Islamists] do,” Mirsky said.

First published in Russian in Vzglyad.

Read more: Diplomats verify claims of Russian man's execution by Islamic State in Syria>>>

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