Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Kidnapped Pakistanis escalate Iraq hostage crisis


Two Pakistanis working for a Kuwait-based company were feared kidnapped yesterday as Iraq's hostage crisis deepened, with at least 22 countries affected by the wave of abductions.

Pakistan said the two missing nationals, an engineer and a driver believed to be working for the al-Tamimi Group, vanished on Friday as they drove toward Baghdad.

"We are trying to find out the details. It is feared they have been kidnapped," a Foreign Office spokesman said. "We will try our best to get them released if they are kidnapped."

Over 15 months, nationals from nearly two dozen countries have been kidnapped in Iraq, sometimes by criminal gangs, but increasingly by militants seeking to put pressure on governments and foreign companies to pull out of the country.

In a step up in sophistication for militants, a senior Egyptian diplomat was seized as he left a Baghdad mosque on Friday. Most kidnapped so far have been drivers.

The abductions have increased sharply since April, when several dozen people were seized in one month. Around 60 people have been taken hostage since then, officials say.

Although most have since been freed, at least six have been killed -- four decapitated -- and on at least two occasions the hostage-takers' demands have been met.

The seizure of the Pakistanis came as a group calling itself al-Qaeda's arm in Europe said that Italy and Australia, both strong allies of the US, must pull out of Iraq or face attacks at home, while Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi urged nations not to give in to terrorists.

During a stopover in Syria, part of a week-long tour of Arab and neighboring states, Allawi urged Egypt and all other nations not to give in to the kidnappers.

"The only way to deal with terrorists is to bring them to justice and to close ranks, and we hope that Egypt and the Egyptian government would act accordingly," he said. "We are going to win. I assure you of that and we are going to prevail and the terrorists will be brought to justice."

The hostage-taking campaign broadly appears aimed at pushing nations to withdraw from Iraq, although some groups have also demanded prisoners be freed or compensation paid to victims of US military offensives. Some are criminals wanting money.

Last week, the Philippines withdrew its troops from Iraq early to spare the life of a Filipino hostage. It joined Spain, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras in pulling out of what was once a 34-nation US-led coalition.

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