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Group says it has killed Egyptian envoy to Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The group al-Qaida in Iraq announced Thursday that it had killed Egypt's top envoy to Baghdad. The statement accompanied a chilling video of the diplomat blindfolded and under insurgent interrogation.

Ihab al-Sherif—who was to be the first full-ranked Arab ambassador to Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003—was killed five days after he was snatched from his upscale neighborhood in Baghdad, according to the Internet statement. The Egyptian government later confirmed that el Sherif was dead.

Governments around the world condemned the killing and other attacks that have shaken the small diplomatic community in Iraq.

"This shows that terrorists have no limits," said Hamid al-Bayati, Iraq's deputy foreign minister.

Al-Qaida in Iraq said the killing was al-Sherif's punishment for apostasy—heretical religious beliefs—and for serving as a diplomat in Israel. In the videotape of his interrogation by militants, al-Sherif, dressed in a polo shirt, calmly recited his name, address and occupation. He said on the tape that he'd served in Israel as deputy Egyptian ambassador from 1999 to 2003.

Al-Qaida frequently has accused its opponents—including other Muslims—of apostasy.

Al-Sherif was kidnapped when he went to pick up a newspaper late Saturday. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed his kidnapping and called the Egyptian government an ally of "Jews and Christians."

On Monday, Arab and Muslim diplomats took extra security precautions after gunmen fired on the Pakistani ambassador and Bahrain's top diplomat, who was shot in the hand. The ambassador from Pakistan, Mohammed Younis Khan, was moved to Jordan temporarily for his safety, Iraq Foreign Ministry officials said. Hassan Malallah al-Ansari also was moved from Iraq, but the Bahraini government upgraded him to full ambassador to thwart al-Qaida's attempt to isolate Iraq from nearby countries.

Officials from a handful of embassies declined this week to comment on the kidnapping. Egyptian officials in Baghdad sounded shaken over the phone. They accepted condolences, but wouldn't offer details on the death or their plans for the mission in Iraq.

"This will not affect the diplomatic relationships," said al-Bayati, the Iraqi deputy foreign minister. "On the contrary, it will make the Egyptians more determined to send an ambassador."

Al-Sherif, who had been in the country only a month, apparently was singled out because of Egypt's decision to send the first Arab ambassador to Iraq since Saddam Hussein's regime was removed from power.

The Arabic satellite channel Al-Arabiya aired interviews with Al-Sherif's daughter and mother, who were shocked and sobbing.

"We are Muslims," his tearful daughter said in the broadcast.


(Special correspondent Huda Ahmed contributed to this report from Baghdad.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.