ROME (AP) — Three workers at a Syrian steel plant, including an Italian, have been kidnapped, officials said Monday.
Italy's foreign ministry did not say where or when the kidnappings occurred but that the plant is located in the regime stronghold of Latakia city on Syria's Mediterranean coast. The ministry statement said the two workers kidnapped with the Italian have other nationalities, but did not identify them.
Italy's news agency ANSA said the Italian captive works as an engineer at the Hmisho steel plant in Latakia, but that he was abducted near Tartus, the Syrian port that is located about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Latakia and contains the only naval base Russia has outside the former Soviet Union.
Sky TG24 TV in Italy said the other two hostages are Russians, but there was no immediate confirmation of that. Interfax, a Russian news agency, quoted Sergei Markov, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Syria, as saying it's looking into reports that two of the three captives are Russian.
Last summer, two Italian electrical engineers were abducted by militants in Syria and freed after eight days in captivity. They told reporters that they were kidnapped by several masked men as they drove to a Syrian airport. The two Italians were then helped by the Syrian army and returned home in July.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war since it began in March 2011, according to activists. The kidnapping of foreigners has been rare, but as Syria descends further into chaos the abduction of Syrians has become increasingly common across many parts of the country.
Most of those kidnappings appear to have sectarian motives, part of tit-for-tat attacks between rebels and pro-regime gunmen. But there have been many cases of gunmen capturing wealthy people for ransom or settling personal scores. Many Syrians rush to get home before dark, even in government controlled areas where the security situation is quieter, for fear of kidnappings.
On Monday, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said he is closely monitoring the current kidnapping case but that he won't release any details that could risk the safety of the three hostages.
"In all these cases, the well-being of our fellow countrymen is our absolute priority and it is indispensable to maintain maximum reserve," he said.