Eqyptian diplomat becomes latest victim of Iraq's hostage takers

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The Independent Online

An Egyptian diplomat yesterday became the first diplomatic official known to have been kidnapped in Iraq.

An Egyptian diplomat yesterday became the first diplomatic official known to have been kidnapped in Iraq.

Mohamed Mamdouh Qutb, a member of Egypt's embassy in Baghdad, was shown sitting in front of six masked men from a group calling itself the "Lions of God Battalions in Iraq" on a video tape broadcast on the al-Jazeera television station

"The group said the abduction was in response to comments that Egypt is ready to offer its security experience to the temporary Iraqi government," said a spokesman for the Arabic news channel.

In Cairo, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, affirmed that "Egypt sending any military personnel to Iraq was not a matter that has been proposed at all".

But on a visit to Cairo that ended yesterday, Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, discussed possible Egyptian involvement in the training of Iraqi forces.

Kidnappers have seized dozens of foreigners since April to demand foreign troops leave Iraq, deter foreigners from working with US forces or extract ransoms. Many have been freed but some have been killed.

In another hostage standoff, a group calling itself the Black Banners, who are threatening to behead seven captives (three Indians, three Kenyans and an Egyptian), yesterday issued a 48-hour deadline to the captives' employers, the Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company.

* A one-month amnesty set up by the authorities in Saudi Arabia and aimed mainly at al-Qa'ida supporters, is due to end in the next few days. There was no immediate word on negotiations to arrange the surrender of the suspected al-Qa'ida leader in the kingdom, Saleh al-Awfi. Saudi authorities this week detained al-Awfi's wife and three children in a raid but he apparently escaped.

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