US forces storm Iraqi house, free Egyptians
CAIRO - U.S. forces in Iraq stormed a house in Baghdad on Monday and freed Egyptian telecommunications engineers kidnapped since Sunday, the head of their Egyptian parent company said.
Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Egypt's Orascom Telecom, said U.S. forces raided a villa, possibly in the mainly Sunni al-Aadhamiya district, and freed two of the four Egyptians. The other two managed to escape on their own from a car they had been locked in, he added.
"All four are free," Sawiris told Reuters by telephone from Algeria.
"Two were released when U.S. forces barged into where they were being held in Baghdad and the other two escaped on their own ... The Americans caught one of the kidnappers," he said.
Sawiris said two of the men were now in Orascom's Baghdad office while the other two were in the heavily fortified and U.S.-controlled Green Zone.
Their families had been contacted and informed that their sons were safe, he added. In Baghdad, a U.S. military spokesman told Reuters he was unable to immediately confirm the report, adding that the military had heard media reports and were making checks.
Earlier, Sawiris told U.S. CNN television that the kidnappers had demanded half a million dollars in ransom and that the demand was not met.
In June last year, U.S.-led special forces raided a hideout south of Baghdad and freed three Italian hostages held for almost two months and a Pole.
NO PLANS TO LEAVE
The men were employed by a unit of Orascom, which has several contracts in Iraq, including running the Iraqna mobile phone service in Baghdad. They were working on a contract to install transmission towers around Baghdad, a company official said.
Sawiris said Orascom, with some 380 Iraqi employees and around 40 expatriates, mostly Egyptians, was not considering pulling out of Iraq after the kidnapping.
"We feel an obligation and we feel we want to be part of the Iraq of tomorrow. If everybody quits, nobody will stay there to provide services and fight for a better future for Iraq," he told CNN.
Iraqna has struggled to maintain coverage around the capital, where mobile telecommunications are sometimes down for days at a time. Other services run by separate companies in the north and south of Iraq have suffered less from sabotage.
The creation of the mobile phone network in Baghdad less than a year after Saddam Hussein's overthrow was seen as one of biggest steps forward Iraq has taken since the U.S.-led invasion, but it has been beset by problems in recent months.
Gunmen have kidnapped about a dozen Egyptians in Iraq over the past year, including six from Iraqna, and are believed to have killed two of them. The abductions appear to be part of militant efforts to disrupt Iraq's reconstruction.
All the Egyptians kidnapped in Iraq, including diplomat Mohamed Mahmoud Qutb, were freed, usually after negotiations through intermediaries.
Scores of foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq over the past year. Some have been released -- often after payment of ransoms -- but several have been killed by militant groups. Many more Iraqis have been kidnapped, usually for ransom.