At least eight employees, including Egyptians and Iraqis, of the Egyptian telecom giant Orascom have been kidnapped in Iraq within two days, the interior ministry and a company employee said yesterday.
"Last night [Thursday] at 10pm, armed men in a BMW drove up to their offices in the Harithiya district [of Baghdad] and kidnapped them," an interior ministry spokesman said.
The office's guards were tied up and the abductors stole computers and weapons from the office before snatching the two Egyptian nationals -- Mustapha Abdel Latif and Mahmoud Turki, the source said.
The Egyptian embassy confirmed the abductions.
Orascom -- the largest telecommunications firm in the Middle East -- was awarded a contract last October to provide mobile phone services to Iraq's Baghdad region.
In addition, an expatriate employee with the company said he was informed Wednesday of the abduction earlier the same day of at least six maintenance workers for the firm, including four Egyptians.
Those kidnappings took place near the western town of Qaim on the Syrian border, he said, after earlier reports that they had gone missing close to the rebel town of Fallujah, west of the capital.
He said "the group included four Egyptian employees of OCI [Orascom Construction Industries] and at least two Iraqis and maybe more."
The Egyptian embassy refused to comment on the four OCI employees.
Meanwhile, Iraqis have distributed 50,000 pamphlets here pleading for the life of British hostage Kenneth Bigley, whose two US colleagues have been beheaded by his captors, a British source said yesterday.
The leaflets, handed out Thursday night in Baghdad's Mansour district where the British engineer and his two American colleagues were taken at gunpoint from their home a week ago, includes a heart-rending plea from his loved ones, the source said.
Iraqis handing out the tracts in Arabic declined to give their names.
"This is a personal appeal from a family whose son is missing. A family man called Ken Bigley is being held somewhere in your community," a translation of the pamphlet read.
"We are Ken's family. Ken's mother, brothers, wife and child love him dearly. We are appealing for your help. We are waiting for Ken to go home ... We appeal to those who have taken him to return Ken to us. Do you know where Ken is? Do you have any information about his whereabouts?"
The pamphlet also provides a number to phone in information.
In related news, US artillery and aircraft fire pounded sectors of the Iraqi rebel city of Fallujah yesterday, sending up clouds of smoke, residents said.
The smoke shrouded the southeastern industrial zone, which houses mainly metal and mechanical workshops, as residents charged that US forces had lobbed artillery into the area.
Within minutes, the artillery fire was followed by an air strike on the Shuhada district in southern Fallujah.
The US military has intensified its strikes on Fallujah this month, targeting suspected hideouts of the insurgency and top al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.
The city, 50km west of Baghdad, has been a no-go zone for US troops since a deadly offensive in April.
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