BEIRUT — Gunmen abducted six Red Cross workers and a Syrian Red Crescent volunteer after stopping their convoy early Sunday in northwestern Syria, a spokesman said, in the latest high-profile kidnapping in the country's civil war.
Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, said the assailants snatched the seven aid workers from their convoy near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province around 11:30 a.m. local time (0830 GMT) as the team was returning to Damascus. He declined to provide the nationalities of the six ICRC employees, and said it was not clear who was behind the attack
Syria's state news agency, quoting an anonymous official, said the gunmen opened fire on the ICRC team's four vehicles before seizing the Red Cross workers. The news agency blamed "terrorists," a term the government uses to refer to those opposed to President Bashar Assad.
Schorno said the team of seven had been in the field since Oct. 10 to assess the medical situation in the area and to look at how to provide medical aid. He said the part of northern Syria where they were seized "by definition is a difficult area to go in," and the team was traveling with armed guards.
Much of the countryside in Idlib province, as well as the rest of northern Syria, has fallen over the past year into the hands of rebels, many of them Islamic extremists, and kidnappings have become rife, particularly of aid workers and foreign journalists.
Press freedom advocate Reporters without Borders calls Syria "the most dangerous country in the world" for journalists, with 25 reporters killed and at least 33 imprisoned since the anti-Assad uprising began in March 2011.
The conflict also has taken a toll on the aid community. The ICRC said in August that 22 Syrian Red Crescent volunteers have been killed in the country since the conflict began. Some were deliberately targeted, while others killed in crossfire, the group said.