Egypt ambassador 'to be killed'

July 6, 2005

A website statement claiming the kidnapping of the Egyptian ambassador to Iraq by an Islamist group has announced he will be killed.

The message, signed by the al-Qaeda in Iraq group, came after Ihab al-Sherif's ID cards appeared on the internet.

Mr Sherif, it said, had been convicted by the group's Islamic court of apostasy, or changing his religion.

The message said Egypt, the biggest Arab state and a strategic US partner, was an ally of "Jews and Christians".

It did not appear to offer any conditions for sparing the life of the envoy, who was seized in Baghdad on Saturday as he bought a newspaper.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for many of the biggest attacks of the insurgency, and the execution-style killing of hostages.

Its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is one of Iraq's most wanted men, with a US bounty of $25m on his head.

'Sharia verdict'
The pictures posted earlier on an Islamist website include the ambassador's driving licence, and foreign ministry and health insurance cards.

"These are the identification cards of the ambassador of tyrants," an accompanying statement said.

It is not clear whether the subsequent announcement that Mr Sherif would be killed was posted on the same website.

"The sharia court of al-Qaeda in Iraq has decided to hand over the apostate, the ambassador of Egypt which is allied to Jews and Christians, to the mujahideen to carry out the punishment of the apostate ... and to kill him," it said.

The announcement accused Egypt's intelligence service of torturing detainees at the US-run prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

It described foreign embassies in Baghdad as "nothing but observation posts to hunt down" foreign Islamist fighters.

The family of Mr Sherif has pleaded for his safe return while Cairo appealed to the kidnappers to treat him well.

Egypt is the first Arab country to upgrade diplomatic ties with Iraq, which were largely broken while Saddam Hussein was in power.

Pakistan withdraws
Two other diplomats from mainly Muslim countries - Pakistan and Bahrain - survived separate attacks on their cars in Baghdad on Tuesday.

Pakistan's ambassador to Iraq arrived in Jordan on Wednesday after being instructed to leave Baghdad temporarily by his government.

Mohammed Younis Khan was not wounded when his convoy came under fire.

The United States embassy in Baghdad has urged other foreign diplomats not to be intimidated by such attacks.

"We believe it's important for the international community to show support for the Iraqis by establishing and maintaining a diplomatic presence," said embassy spokesman Adam Hobson.

His words were echoed by Iraqi Interior Minister Baqir Solagh who said there was a government plan "to protect diplomats after these incidents".