BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that a Chinese national reported as being held hostage by Islamic State insurgents appears to be one of its missing citizens.
Islamic State, which controls territory in Iraq and Syria, published two photographs of men they called “prisoners” in their English-language magazine Dabiq this week.
The hardline Islamist group said one was from Norway and the second a Chinese man identified as Fan Jinghui. It has executed an unknown number of hostages over the past year.
“After initial verification of the relevant media reports of the two hostages, one of them matches the characteristics of a Chinese citizen who has gone missing overseas,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular press briefing.
Hong said China had launched an emergency response mechanism and reiterated that the Chinese government is firmly opposed to violence against innocent civilians. He did not give further details.
The magazine shows Fan, identified as a 50-year-old “freelance consultant” from Beijing, against a black background wearing a yellow top, and provides a telegram number for anyone who wishes to pay his ransom. It is unclear where he is being held and did not give a ransom amount.
The Chinese state-run Beijing News said it had located an advertising company in western Beijing registered to Fan using the partial address provided in the magazine.
No one answered the door of the company, located on the fifth floor of a low-rise residential building, when Reuters reporters visited on Friday evening.
When showed pictures of Fan, neighbors said they did not know him well.
“His face is familiar but he hasn’t been around here for a long time,” said an elderly woman, who declined to give her name.
Chinese citizens have been held hostage before overseas, including in Africa and Pakistan.
A Chinese tourist kidnapped in Pakistan by the Taliban more than a year ago was freed in August, the result of an intelligence operation, according to Pakistani officials, though few details have emerged.
China has repeatedly denounced Islamist militants and urged the world to step up coordination in combating Islamic State, though it has been reluctant to get involved on the ground in Syria and Iraq where the group largely operates.
Chinese officials, however, say the country faces a severe threat from Islamist separatists in its western Xinjiang region, where violence has left hundreds dead over the past three years.
Rights groups say the real cause of the unrest is Chinese restrictions on the Islamic faith and culture of the Uighur people who call the region home, accusations Beijing denies.
Instead, China says members of a Uighur militant group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), have gone to Turkey and then on to train with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, with the intent of returning to Xinjiang to wage holy war.
Many foreign experts, however, have questioned whether ETIM exists as the coherent group China says it is.
Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING and Yara Bayoumy in DUBAI; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Mike Collett-White