IRAQ - July 7 - Kidnapped Egyptian Diplomat Killed In Iraq.
Gunmen kill the head of Egypt's diplomatic mission in Baghdad,
Ihab al-Sherif, which, the Al Qaeda group says it executed him because
he represented a "tyrannical" government allied to Jews and
Christians. The envoy, ambassador Ihab al-Sherif, was abducted near his
home in Baghdad after taking up his post as one of the highest ranking
Arab diplomats in Iraq. A former diplomat in Tel Aviv, Sherif appears to
have fallen foul of a conflict between insurgents and the US-backed
rulers in Baghdad over Arab recognition of the government. The Iraqi
government had said Egypt planned to upgrade its representation in
Baghdad to full ambassador level. Egypt said that although Sherif has
the civil service rank of ambassador, his title remained head of the
diplomatic mission in Iraq. The Al Qaeda group in Iraq announced his
death on July 7 in an Internet statement posted on an Islamist Web site.
"We al Qaeda in Iraq announce that the judgement of God has been
implemented against the ambassador of the infidels, the ambassador of
Egypt. Oh enemy of God, Ihab el-Sherif, this is your punishment in this
life", the statement said. The group, led by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi,
posted a video showing the hostage speaking but not the actual killing.
The Egyptian presidency confirmed that Sherif was dead, saying in a
statement that the envoy had "lost his life at the hands of
terrorism which trades in Islam". "The Egyptian Foreign
Ministry ... has received with deep pain and sadness the news of the
martyrdom of Ambassador Dr Ihab al-Sherif", added a FM statement.
An Egyptian diplomatic source said Egypt had confirmation of the killing
"through multiple contacts" but had not received decisive
evidence from the Iraqi government and did not know where Sherif's
body might be. The killing surprised the Egyptian government, which
earlier on July 7 was saying that it remained in contact with all Iraqi
groups and hoped to secure his release. Egyptian FM Ahmad Aboul Gheit
had told reporters that Sherif was a pious Muslim and that his mission
in Iraq was to make contact with all sectors of Iraqi society. On the
video, Sherif appeared blindfolded. He identified himself by name and
said he was the head of the Egyptian mission in Iraq with ambassadorial
rank in Egypt's foreign ministry. "Previously ... I was deputy
to the Egyptian ambassador to Israel", he said. He appeared alone
without militants. Al Qaeda Organisation for Holy War in Iraq said it
would later provide details of Sherif's interrogation. "The
ambassador of the infidels gave information that showed the infidelity
of his regime and allegiance to the Jews and Christians. His confessions
were taped", said the statement. The Egyptian government is one of
the friendliest in the region towards the US, which militant Islamists
call a crusader state because of its invasions of Muslim countries.
Egypt was also the first Arab state to make peace with Israel. Relations
with Israel have improved this year, with important agreements on trade
and gas deliveries. The killing of Sherif sparked a heated domestic
controversy, with opposition leaders blaming the government for rushing
him to Baghdad to please the US. "His blood is on the hands of
those who sent him to Iraq at this time", said Dia el-Din Dawoud,
leader of the Arab nationalist and leftist Nasserite Party. "Egypt
wanted to stand out by sending the first Arab ambassador to Iraq, but as
long as our policies do not spring from our national and Arab interests,
this will be the outcome", he told Reuters. Other leaders made
similar remarks. The Sunni Muslim group announced on July 6 it would
kill Sharif and also warned that other envoys would face the same fate.
It has in the past beheaded foreign captives, including two Americans
and a Briton. Zarqawi's group is one of the leaders of a bloody
insurgency against US forces and the American-backed Iraqi government.
Most of the hostages taken by the group have been killed.
"Egypt's prisons are full of mujahideen and its courts do not
rule by God's law. They have issued sentences against true Muslims,
including our Sheikh Ayman Al Zawahri", Al Qaeda said, referring to
the Egyptian right-hand man of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, wanted
by Cairo for anti-government attacks.