Egypt confirms death of diplomat in Iraq

Al-Sharif was abducted, executed days later by group al-Qaida in Iraq

July 08, 2005|By Aamer Madhani | Aamer Madhani,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Egyptian government confirmed a report yesterday by the militant organization al-Qaida in Iraq that it had killed Egypt's top diplomat here, days after he was snatched off a busy commercial strip in Baghdad.

Al-Qaida in Iraq said in an Internet posting that diplomat Ihab al-Sherif was targeted because of his country's cooperation with U.S.-led forces in Iraq and vowed that the group would continue to target those who work with the "Jews and Christians" occupying Iraq.

"We announce in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq that the verdict of God against the ambassador of the infidels, the ambassador of Egypt, has been carried out," the statement said. "Egypt is one of those at the forefront of the war on Islam and Muslims. Its prisons are full of mujahedeen."

News of the death of al-Sherif came as at least eight other people were killed in violence yesterday in the capital and the northern city of Mosul. Six civilians died and 24 were wounded in a mortar attack on a police station in Mosul. Gunmen killed two Shiite clerics in Baghdad, police said.

Soon after al-Qaida in Iraq posted its statement, Egyptian officials in Cairo confirmed al-Sherif's death and President Hosni Mubarak's office offered condolences to the envoy's family.

Egyptian officials did not say how they were able to confirm that al-Sherif had been killed.

"Ihab al-Sherif lost his life by the hands of terrorism which is trading in Islam and recognizes no country or religion," the Egyptian government said in a statement.

Egypt said the killing of al-Sherif would not deter it from supporting Iraq's government. Late yesterday, however, Saad Mohammed Ribha, the head of Iraq's diplomatic mission in Cairo, told the Associated Press that Egypt's Foreign Ministry had said the nation's diplomatic mission in Baghdad would be closed temporarily and its remaining staff would be evacuated.

That would make Egypt the third country to evacuate members of their diplomatic staffs from Iraq this week, after Bahrain and Pakistan. Both of the predominantly Muslim countries pulled their top envoys out of Iraq after they were ambushed in separate incidents Tuesday in the capital.

In comments to reporters in Najaf yesterday before news of al-Sherif's killing circulated, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani minimized the impact the attacks would have on the international community working in Iraq.

"It will have no effect," Talabani said. "We will emphasize strong security precautions ... in order to protect the embassies and houses of diplomats."

Although at least two other foreigners working for diplomatic missions have been kidnapped since the invasion, al-Sherif was the first to be executed by his captors.

His killing comes as U.S. officials are persistently nudging the international community - particularly those from Arab and Muslim countries - to take a more active role in rebuilding Iraq and reconstituting the nation's security forces. Egypt has provided training for Iraqi security personnel outside Iraq.

In the past, al-Qaida in Iraq, which is led by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has announced the killing of foreigners by disseminating video of the captives on the Internet or through Arab satellite news channels, often including grisly footage of the executions. No footage of al-Sherif's death was provided, but the group said in its statement that more information was to come.

The statement yesterday was accompanied by a short video of al-Sherif summarizing his career within the Egyptian Foreign Service, including his posting as a deputy ambassador to Israel.

Al-Sherif, 51, appears blindfolded and wearing a white polo shirt with black print that is open at the collar. He seems calm as he lists his past jobs with the Egyptian government and provides his address in Cairo.

Al-Sherif was abducted Sunday in broad daylight in a crowded shopping district in western Baghdad. As many as eight gunmen pistol-whipped the Egyptian diplomat and stuffed him into a trunk as one of the gunmen screamed to passers-by that they were abducting an "American spy," witnesses said.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry dispatched al-Sherif to Iraq last month to become chief of his country's diplomatic mission. Later in June, Egypt announced its intention to turn its diplomatic mission into a full-fledged embassy, and al-Sherif was expected to be named ambassador.

Egypt would be the first Arab nation to open a full-fledged embassy in Iraq.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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