A Russian man traveling in Syria was apparently abducted by an Islamist rebel group, which is accusing him of spying for the Syrian government.
Konstantin Zhuravlev, 32, is an experienced traveler and photographer. He was passing through Syria on his way from Turkey to Egypt, and went missing on Sept. 30, his friends say.
On Friday, the pro-rebel Shamel News posted an image of Zhuravlev’s passport on its Facebook page, and claimed that he was a Russian spy who was arrested in Aleppo. The message also said footage of his interrogation would be posted soon.
The disturbing development drew critical comments, but little apparent sympathy, from the Russian embassy in Damascus.
“We are puzzled why a man, who knows that there is military action in Syria, goes hitchhiking there with no clearance. What was he expecting?” Vasily Kartuzov, the embassy’s deputy consul, told Interfax.
The embassy said it had no information on Zhuravlev’s whereabouts, but was using its contacts to work out where he was.
Zhuravlev could be in the hands of the rebel Al-Tawhid Brigade, Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency said, citing a source in the Syrian security forces. The group, believed to have ties to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, operates in Aleppo as part of a broad coalition of Islamist forces fighting to topple the government of President Bashar Assad.
The source said that Zhuravlev’s entry into the country was not through the proper channels, involving the authorities in Damascus. He denied rebel claims that Zhuravlev could be spying, saying that he did not appear to speak Arabic.
According to Zhuravlev’s friends, he was intending to travel alone to the eastern Sahara Desert. There, he was planning a fast for three weeks, blindfolded and with his ears plugged, as part of a spiritual project.