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Archive for Saturday, July 24, 2004

Iraq militants abduct Egyptian diplomat

July 24, 2004

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

Earlier Friday, U.S. 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 house in Fallujah, the U.S. 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 U.N. 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 U.S. forces in the city of Fallujah. They have threatened to begin beheading the hostages starting today.

The company, in Kuwait, told The Associated Press 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 U.S. 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 kidnappings and killings.

Militants in recent months have kidnapped roughly 70 foreigners in their campaign to force countries to withdraw troops and to scare away contractors working on reconstruction projects. At least three hostages have been beheaded.

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.

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