In Egypt, security at multinational oil and gas companies is extremely high these days: for example, an Egyptian who works at a petroleum concern in Cairo told DW that in recent years the company had reduced the number of expat workers it hired and assigned escorts to foreign visitors at all times. "They're only allowed to stay in their designated hotels and not allowed to go for a walk, ever, " said the man, who was not authorized by his company to speak publicly.
This strict policy was implemented during the political turmoil surrounding the Arab Spring in 2011 and then further tightened following the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and the subsequent crackdown on supporters of his Muslim Brotherhood, which further fueled an Islamist insurgency that had been simmering on the Sinai peninsula for years. In recent weeks, a group called "Sinai Province" - a local affiliate of the " Islamic State" (IS) - has claimed increasingly sophisticated attacks, including the assassination of Egypt's prosecutor general, a bombing outside the Italian consulate in Cairo and the destruction of a navy vessel.
On Wednesday, Sinai Province released a video threatening to kill a Croatian man kidnapped in Cairo last month if the Egyptian government did not release female prisoners. Last December, the group, known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis until pledging allegiance to IS in November, claimed to have killed an American working for the petroleum company Apache west of Cairo.
'All possible efforts'
Tomislav Salopek, who works for the French geosciences company CGG, was abducted July 22 on a road running from the west of Cairo. He is likely being held somewhere in Egypt's Western Desert, which runs along Libya - or perhaps has been taken across the porous border.
"Egypt is exerting all possible efforts to identify the place where the Croatian citizen is being kept, " a Foreign Ministry spokesman told DW.
It is unclear whether Salopek was specifically targeted for his nationality or for his profession. Middle East Analyst Zack Gold, currently a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told DW that it was possible that he was kidnapped by members of the Sinai Province or their supporters, but that it was also likely that a criminal gang was behind the abduction, who then later sold him on to the IS affiliate. "I assume that whoever picked him up saw a light-skinned individual and assumed it was some sort of Westerner they could make a display of, " Gold said.
Gold estimates that Sinai Province has somewhere between 300 and 700 active fighters and told DW that the group is becoming "more advanced and more worrisome." In the past, Gold had warned that Sinai Province could begin to retaliate against the Egyptian interests of coalition countries battling the group in Syria and Iraq. Yet, he said, the demands in the video were purely Egyptian - aimed at attracting potential domestic supporters. "Sinai Province are trying to pick off support from members of the Muslim Brotherhood, attempting to get them to join the jihadist cause, " he said.
Thousands of people, many of them members of the Muslim Brotherhood, have been jailed since the army overthrew Morsi in 2013. Pressing for their release, Gold believes, may be a way of telling potential sympathizers "look at what we're doing against the state or for your benefit versus look at what your leaders are doing, which is nothing."
He said it was only later, "almost like an afterthought, " that the social media run out of IS Central began to adapt the abduction to serve a more global cause, by discussing how Croatia was involved in the coalition fighting the group.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman told DW that "such incidents could happen anywhere in the world at any time." He added: "Egypt remains a safe place for foreigners."
Still, security officials told DW that measures had been increased all over the country - and foreign companies, too, are likely to tighten their security policy even tighter. "If this is really true, " the petroleum worker told DW, "they'll stop all visits to Egypt by non-Egyptians."