| A picture taken from Al Jazeera shows masked gunmen standing behind the Egyptian diplomat Mohamed Mamdouh Qutb at an undisclosed location in Iraq. (Reuters)
Baghdad, July 24 (Reuters): Iraq and Egypt tried to secure the release of a senior Egyptian diplomat today after he was snatched in a brazen kidnapping while leaving a mosque — the first envoy to be taken hostage in a growing wave of abductions.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi urged Cairo not to pander to the kidnappers, who seized Egyptian diplomat Mohamed Mamdouh Qutb yesterday afternoon in Baghdad after reports Cairo might consider helping Iraq with security. Qutb is the number three in Egypt’s mission in Baghdad.
“We are involved in intense talks to try to secure his release,” a source at the Egyptian embassy said. “We were so shocked. He’s a very decent and religious man.”
The kidnapping of a well-protected diplomat outside a busy place of worship is a step up in sophistication for militants and sharply raises the stakes in Iraq’s weeks-long series of abductions, which have mostly involved foreign truck drivers.
Today, the chief of Iraq’s al-Mansour Construction Company, a state-owned firm, was kidnapped as he drove to work in Baghdad. Raad Adnan Mahmoud was also director-general of Iraq’s housing and construction ministry.
Mahmoud’s kidnappers have not made any demands so far.
In another hostage standoff, a group which has threatened to behead seven foreign truck drivers issued a new 48-hour deadline to the Kuwaiti company that employs them, demanding Iraqi prisoners be freed from Kuwaiti and US jails — a demand that is impossible for the company to meet.
Al Jazeera TV yesterday broadcast pictures of Egyptian diplomat Qutb sitting in front of six hooded and armed men from a group calling itself the “Lions of God Battalions in Iraq”.
The group said the abduction was in response to Egyptian comments that Cairo was ready to offer its security experience to the Iraqi government, the Arabic satellite station said.
Allawi visited Cairo this week and discussed the possibility of using Egyptian troops in training Iraq’s forces. But Egyptian officials were quick to emphasise that no deal was struck.
Qutb’s abduction came four days after he was widely photographed celebrating the release of an Egyptian truck driver kidnapped by insurgents earlier this month. The driver was freed after his Saudi Arabian employer promised to pull out of Iraq.
Italy, Australia threat
A group claiming to be the European wing of al Qaida today threatened Australia and Italy with attacks if they did not pull troops out of Iraq.
The statement signed bythe “Islamic Tawhid Group, The al Qaida organisation, Europe” and posted on a website said it would attack both countries with “columns of rigged cars” if their demands were not met.
“Australian people, if your government refuses to withdraw and respond to us we will shake the ground beneath your feet as we did in Indonesia and columns of rigged cars will not stop,” it said.