BEIRUT – Syria’s extremist Nusra Front group seized two prominent media activists in the country’s north on Sunday, shutting down their radio station and burning rebel flags in the process.
The opposition radio station, Radio Fresh, said on its social media pages that Raed Fares and Hadi Abdullah were abducted by Nusra, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, in an early morning raid in the town of Kafranbel.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that tracks the country’s civil war, says Fares, who runs the station, was taken because he had criticized the group.
In January 2014, Islamic State militants sprayed his car with 40 bullets, hospitalizing him for three months, and in December of that year, Nusra detained and beat him for three days.
Also Sunday, the U.N. special envoy to Syria met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran, describing the appointment as “useful” ahead of upcoming peace talks in late January.
“Like he had done when he visited Saudi Arabia on Jan. 5, he asked and obtained the assurance of his interlocutors that current tensions in the region would not affect the engagement of their government in supporting the Vienna process and facilitating the holding of the Geneva talks,” Staffan de Mistura’s office said in a statement.
Last week, de Mistura met with Syrian opposition officials in Saudi Arabia, which supports Assad’s opponents, and on Saturday he met officials in Damascus, which announced it was ready to attend the talks but wants to make sure that no “terrorist” groups will be represented.
A spat erupted between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this month after the Sunni kingdom executed a convicted Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, who criticized the Saudi monarchy. His execution enflamed regional tensions with Shiite powerhouse Iran, where angry protesters ransacked Saudi diplomatic missions, prompting the kingdom to sever ties with Tehran. Several Saudi allies have followed suit and cut or reduced ties with Tehran, the main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad.