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Egypt denies paying ransom for diplomat
Updated: 2004-07-28 08:31

Egyptian officials in Cairo and Washington dismissed a CNN report Tuesday that their government paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom for the release of an Egyptian diplomat in Iraq.

Masked men calling themselves the Lions of God Brigades abducted Momdoh Kotb, Egypt's third-highest ranking diplomat in Iraq, as he was leaving a mosque Thursday and released him Monday.

Two high-level sources in Baghdad told CNN the Egyptian government paid for Kotb's release.

Among CNN's sources is a highly placed Iraqi who said Egypt paid a ransom but made no concessions about its security commitments to Iraq.

Egypt "categorically denies any money [was] paid out to anybody," said Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's ambassador to the United States.

Paying ransom "has never been our policy anywhere," Fahmy said.

As evidence, Fahmy pointed to two recent abductions of Egyptian drivers in Iraq. One was killed and the other was released.

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli initially said he "could not speak to the veracity of the CNN report," then changed his comments to state that the Egyptian government indicated it "did not make any concessions to the terrorists."

"Our information is the Egyptian government remains steadfast in this manner," he said.

The Lions of God Brigades, a previously unknown group, did not make any demands but said Kotb's abduction was a response to Egypt's offer to help with security matters in Iraq.

Kotb's liberation came moments after the Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape on which the narrator said the hostage-takers declined to accept a large amount of money that had been offered them in exchange for the diplomat's release.

The narrator added that Kotb was being released because he was a polite, religious man.

U.S. and Iraqi officials strongly discourage paying ransoms or acquiescing to kidnappers' demands because they fear it could inspire insurgents to use the tactic more frequently.

Jordanian businessman Rami al-Ouweiss said Tuesday his company would stop cooperating with the U.S. military because a group calling itself Mujahedeen Corps, which abducted two of his employees, had demanded that action.

In an interview on an Arabic-language television station, al-Ouweiss said he would rather sacrifice his lucrative ties with the U.S. Marines for the safety of his workers.

In the same interview, al-Ouweiss said the kidnapping stemmed from long-standing business and tribal rivalries and that he and his family have received daily threatening calls from the kidnappers.

Insurgents in Iraq still hold at least 11 other foreigners -- including an Egyptian trucker -- and one Iraqi while making demands that their companies cease cooperating with the U.S. military or end their operations in Iraq.

Other developments

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney told Marines Tuesday that the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein's government removed a "gathering threat" to the United States. Since the invasion, only a handful of aging chemical shells have turned up in Iraq, though a CIA-led survey has found evidence that Iraq concealed some banned weapons research from United Nations weapons inspectors.

Iraqi authorities displayed a collection of guns, missiles, rocket launchers, explosives, vehicles and uniforms Tuesday. The booty was the result of a raid on a suspected safe house in Baghdad. U.S. Marines also grabbed a large cache, discovering 219 60 mm mortar rounds concealed in bags of grain. The Marines said it was the largest cache of 60 mm rounds confiscated since they took control of Anbar province, which includes the hotspot cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, in March.

In a Tuesday interview with the Polish morning television program "Napkelte," Secretary of State Colin Powell said he hoped Hungary would keep its more than 350 troops, who drive trucks for humanitarian missions in Iraq, beyond their mandate, which ends December 31. (Full story)

A three-day national conference with 1,000 attendees will begin in Baghdad on Saturday to choose a 100-person interim body that will advise and oversee the newly installed Iraqi interim government. Iraq's transitional administrative law decrees that the national conference, which in some ways resembles the loya jirga helping to shape the government in Afghanistan, choose the interim council.

Gunmen shot and killed Dr. Qassem al-Ebadi, a deputy director at Mahmudiya Hospital in the Baghdad-area late Monday as he left his private clinic, an Iraqi Health Ministry official said.

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