Norway's government has confirmed that militants with the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have been holding a Norwegian national hostage since January. Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad was one of two foreigners who recently appeared in ISIS hostage posters advertising them as “For sale” to anyone willing to pay their ransom. ISIS also claimed to be holding Chinese national Fan Jingui, although Chinese authorities have not confirmed his identity.
The Norwegian government said it was made aware of the possible kidnapping of Grimsgaard-Ofstad, 48, in Syria in late January. The hostage was reportedly held by different kidnappers before ending up in ISIS' hands. The ISIS poster, published in its online magazine Dabiq, does not specify where Grimsgaard-Ofstad is being held.
Before going missing, the Norwegian posted on his Facebook page that he was in Idlib, Syria, an area now under control of Islamist rivals of ISIS, including the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. In the same Facebook post, Grimsgaard-Ofstad said he was next headed to Hama, a city in Syria that has seen intense fighting but remains largely under government control.
Grimsgaard-Ofstad attended the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, according to his Facebook. The ISIS poster listed his occupation as a candidate for master's in political science.
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A former acquaintance of Grimsgaard-Ofstad told a Norwegian news agency that he was previously involved in anti-immigrant activism, International Business Times’ UK edition reported. That was in the 1990s, but more recently, he has posted Facebook messages critical of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which publishes satirical cartoons mocking Islam and extremism. Grismgaard-Ofstad questioned the wisdom of publishing content they knew would be deemed offensive. He also shared pictures on his Facebook that he had taken in southern Turkey prior to crossing the Syrian border.
The hostage posters contain information about both Grimsgaard-Ofstad and Fan, including their dates and places of birth, home addresses and occupations, presumably as proof of their captivity. Both men appear in bright yellow jumpsuits in front of a black backgrounds. A phone number is provided for those interested in paying their ransom. Significantly less information is known about Fan, 50, whom ISIS listed as a freelance consultant from Beijing.
A message below their photos reads: “To whom it may concern of the crusaders, pagans, and their allies, as well as what are referred to as human ‘rights’ organizations: this Norwegian prisoner was abandoned by his government, which did not do its utmost to purchase his freedom.”
The Norwegian government said it was working to bring Grimsgaard-Ofstad home, but was not willing to pay ransom to ISIS. Governments have resisted paying ransom to extremist groups since it could increase the risk of their nationals being kidnapped.