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Anyone who does not share the ideology of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is likely to agree that it is wrong for the group’s adherents to behead some of those they have held hostage. Much more controversial, however, are the secret decisions by European governments to pay such groups ransoms for the release of their nationals.

Although the Islamic State’s hostages have come from several countries, so far it has beheaded only those from the United States and the United Kingdom. The only European hostage reported to have been executed directly by the Islamic State appears to have been a Russian, Sergey Gorbunov, but little is known about him. No friend or relative has come forward, and no video of his death has been released. Russian officials have publicly doubted that he was a Russian citizen.

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