Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Militants take Egyptian official hostage

AP , BAGHDAD

Egyptian diplomat Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, center, is shown seated in front of six masked kidnappers in Iraq in a video broadcast Friday on the al Jazeera television station.

PHOTO: AP

Militants kidnapped a senior Egyptian diplomat as he left a mosque and demanded his country abandon any plans to send security experts to support Iraq's new government, according to a video broadcast on the al Jazeera television station.

Earlier Friday, US forces launched a strike targeting 10 to 12 suspected terrorists linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant blamed for attacks against foreigners in Iraq. The suspects were in the courtyard of a house in Fallujah, the US command said.

The military did not mention casualties, but a hospital official said five civilians were wounded, including three children.

The abduction of the Egyptian -- the first foreign diplomat kidnapped in Iraq -- threatened to undermine efforts of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday to persuade Arab and Muslim countries to provide troops to protect the UN mission here.

A different militant group holding seven foreign truck drivers, including one Egyptian, announced new demands in a video, insisting that their Kuwaiti employer pay compensation for those killed by US forces in the city of Fallujah. They have threatened to begin beheading the hostages starting yesterday.

The company, in Kuwait, told reporters it was negotiating with the militants and that it was confident the hostages would be freed.

The beheading of hostages has stirred opposition in Iraq, with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led a two-month uprising against US forces beginning in April, joining the criticism.

"We condemn what some people are doing regarding the beheading of prisoners, and it is illegal according to Islamic law," al-Sadr said at the Kufa mosque south of Baghdad, where he led Friday prayers. "Anybody doing this is a criminal, and we will punish him according to Islamic law."

Al-Sadr's word carries weight with many in the country's Shiite majority but is essentially meaningless to the Sunni Muslims believed responsible for many of the kidnappings and killings.

Many of those abducted have been truck drivers, but the capture of Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, the Egyptian, signaled that insurgents are seeking more influential targets.

Only days earlier, Qutb had embraced freed Egyptian truck driver Alsayeid Mohammed Alsayeid Algarabawi, who was released by militants Monday.

An Egyptian diplomat in Baghdad, who declined to be identified, said Qutb was abducted Friday as he left a mosque.

No specific threat against Qutb was mentioned.

The crisis came amid a new surge in kidnappings.

A group calling itself "The Holders of the Black Banners" released videos Wednesday and Thursday saying it was holding three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian and would behead one every 72 hours starting last night if the Kuwaiti trucking company they work for did not stop doing business in Iraq and their countries did not withdraw their citizens.

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