Egyptian envoy's captors remain anonymous

Monday, July 4, 2005

The kidnappers of Egypt's ambassador to Iraq, Ihab Al-Sherif, remain anonymous amid pleas for his well treatment. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that Cairo was working with Iraqi authorities to advance the release of Mr. Al-Sherif, who was kidnapped on Saturday.

A search of insurgent hideouts conducted by Iraqi and U.S. forces began on Monday in western parts of Baghdad.

Abul Gheit pledged that everyone involved "handle the situation wisely".

"Our colleague... went to Iraq to serve the interests of the Iraqi people. We hope that they try their best in locating him and that he returns safely to his family," he said while in Libya for an African Union summit.

"We understand the fury of the Iraqi people but this man is working for the benefit of the Iraqi and the Egyptian people and therefore we wish that he is treated accordingly."

An unidentified source said Mr Al-Sherif was "buying a newspaper" when he was kidnapped last Saturday. Witnesses said that a gunman "hit him on the head with a pistol as others shouted that he was 'an American spy'". He was then pushed into one of two BMWs used in the kidnapping. More than 36 hours afterwards no group have claimed responsibility or made any demands.

Egyptians in Iraq are no strangers to kidnappings. Last July, rebels kidnapped Egyptian diplomat Mohamed Mamdouh Qutb, who was freed unharmed. The gunmen from this case released a statement saying that their actions were in response to Egypt offering to train Iraq's security forces, an offer that was later withdrawn.

Mr. Al-Sherif arrived in Iraq on June 1, shortly before his promotion to the position of ambassador — a move that was praised by Iraq's foreign minister. The Egyptian government upgraded its relations with Iraq in mid-June to "full embassy status".

Some believe the U.S. is "urging" Arab states to appoint ambassadors in order to "support the new government and curb the resistance." Egypt had withdrawn its ambassador to Iraq 14 years ago, and was in support of the first gulf war in 1991.