Home>News Center>World

Six Egyptians snatched in Iraq
Updated: 2004-09-25 01:02

Gunmen seized two Egyptians from their Baghdad office, the third in a new series of audacious operations to kidnap foreigners in the Iraqi capital this month.

In a separate attack that could be related, four Egyptians working for the same company as those seized in Baghdad were abducted in an area west of the capital, an Egyptian diplomat in Baghdad said Friday.

Iraqi Shi'ite men shout anti-U.S. slogans after Friday prayers at Al-Qadhamiya shrine in Baghdad, September 24, 2004. [Reuters]

The attacks follow the kidnapping of two Americans and a Briton last week from their Baghdad home and the abduction of two Italian aid workers from their office earlier this month.

A group led by the United States' number one enemy in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, says it will kill Briton Kenneth Bigley, 62, unless all Iraqi women are freed from U.S.-run jails.

Zarqawi's group has already beheaded the two Americans taken with Bigley -- Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley -- and posted footage of the killings on the Internet.

In Baghdad, Iraqis handed out thousands of fliers with a photo of Bigley, pleading in Arabic for word on his whereabouts.

The series of abductions, coupled with deadly clashes, has raised fears that elections due in January could be postponed.

Speaking in Washington Thursday, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said the poll would go ahead on time despite the violence and said the situation in Iraq had been exaggerated. Critics said he was trying to paint too rosy a picture of the crisis.

Earlier this month, gunmen kidnapped two female Italian aid workers. Internet statements from two guerrilla groups say they have been killed, but Italy's government dismissed the claims.

Police said the Egyptians were snatched in their office late Thursday by gunmen who overpowered and tied up their guards. A spokesman for Egyptian telecoms company Orascom, whose Iraqi unit employed the men, said the kidnappings were not political.

Besides hostage-takings by guerrilla groups, many criminal gangs in Iraq have successfully kidnapped people for ransom.

An Egyptian diplomat confirmed that four Egyptians working for Iraqna, an Iraqi telecoms company in which Orascom has a large stake, were taken, along with four Iraqis. Police said the 8 were seized in Falluja."

More than 100 foreign hostages have been seized since April in a deepening campaign. Most have been released, but around 30 have been killed, several by being beheading.

Until this month, almost all the kidnapped foreigners were snatched on Iraq's perilous roads. But the capture of foreigners in Baghdad in operations that seem carefully planned is an escalation that has alarmed foreign embassies and firms.


President Bush said Thursday that he and Allawi would "stay the course" in Iraq and insisted elections would be held in January despite the violence and kidnappings.

Yet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conceded some areas that are guerrilla strongholds may be excluded from voting, with polls going ahead in "three-quarters or four-fifths" of Iraq.

Allawi said the elections would be free and fair. "They may not be the best elections that Iraq will ever hold," he said. "But they will take place and they will be free and fair."

In a speech to Congress in Washington, Allawi said Iraq's fledgling security forces would prevail against the insurgents.

"In Iraq, we confront both an insurgency and the global war on terror, with their destructive forces sometimes overlapping," he said. "I can tell you today they will not succeed."

But Democrat presidential contender Senator John Kerry said: "We have an administration in disarray." The "true test of leadership" is how to respond when things go wrong, he added.

He also questioned Allawi's optimism on whether polls could proceed, prompting criticism by Vice President Dick Cheney.

"I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Senator Kerry showed for this man of courage when he rushed out to hold a press conference and attack the prime minister, the man America must stand with to defeat the terrorists," Cheney said.

Some analysts shared the skepticism over Allawi's view.

"It looked like a publicity stunt for Bush's election campaign. The reality on the ground does not conform to his wishful thinking," Baria Alamuddin, foreign editor of the pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper, said of Allawi's speech.

"It will go down badly in Iraq, where people are being bombed and bombarded every day. Allawi may be a sincere man, but he will be seen more and more as an American stooge."

In Falluja, U.S. aircraft bombed targets in the city on Friday, residents said. The U.S. military has launched repeated air strikes on Falluja, usually targeting what it says are hideouts used by Zarqawi's followers in the city.

In central Baghdad, a mortar attack killed four people and wounded 14 in a busy square, police said.

  Today's Top News     Top World News

Premier pushes for strengthened partnership



Nation gears up for incoming holiday



36 still missing as search goes on



Dorm: A room of one's own



Telecom, Netcom to link wireless services



Moves to expose dangers of smoking


  Three Israeli soldiers shot dead
  Two Egyptian engineers kidnapped in Iraq
  US concerned over reports of possible DPRK missile tests
  Bush: Terrorists may plan more attacks
  Gates tops forbes list of richest in U.S.
  Australia vows action after incendiary device found on jet
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  News Talk  
  Are the Republicans exploiting the memory of 9/11?