- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

BAGHDAD — Kidnappers seized six Egyptians and four Iraqis working for the country’s mobile phone company, authorities said yesterday, and Muslim leaders in Britain announced plans to send negotiators to Baghdad in hopes of winning the release of hostage Kenneth Bigley.

Gunmen abducted two of the Egyptians Thursday in a bold raid on the firm’s Baghdad office — the latest in a string of kidnappings targeting engineers working on Iraq’s infrastructure, in a bid to undermine the U.S.-allied interim government. Eight other company employees were seized outside Baghdad on Wednesday.

Insurgents fired a rocket on a busy Baghdad street yesterday, killing four persons and wounding 14, the military said.

The worsening security situation prompted one U.S. official to warn that Saddam Hussein’s trial on war crimes charges likely would not take place any time soon. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, dismissed accusations by the tribunal’s ousted director that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was pushing for “show trials” to boost his popularity ahead of January elections.

The new kidnappings followed the beheadings of two American civil engineers who were taken hostage last week with Mr. Bigley. The 62-year-old Briton was shown in a videotape Wednesday begging authorities to meet his kidnappers’ demands and save his life.

The militant group Tawhid and Jihad, led by Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, has threatened to kill Mr. Bigley unless Iraqi women are freed from prison.

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was sending two “well-respected figures in the British Muslim community” to Baghdad to try to win Mr. Bigley’s freedom.

“Islam does not allow us to harm the innocent,” said Iqbal Sacranie, the group’s secretary-general, urging the kidnappers to “release this man back into the arms of his waiting family.”

The British Embassy in Baghdad handed out 50,000 leaflets carrying an appeal from Mr. Bigley’s family for the kidnappers to spare him, the Foreign Office said.

Two of the Egyptians were kidnapped when gunmen stormed the office of the Iraqna mobile phone company Thursday night, Interior Ministry official Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said. The gunmen tied up guards, hustled the two communications engineers into a car and drove away, officials said.

The two were employed by Motorola but were doing work for Iraqna, said Farouq Mabrouk, an Egyptian Embassy official.

Four more Egyptian engineers and four Iraqis were kidnapped Wednesday outside Baghdad, Mr. Mabrouk said. One of the Iraqis has been released, he said.

An Egyptian diplomat, Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, was seized in July by militants angry at Cairo’s plan to send security experts to Iraq. He was freed after three days of diplomatic efforts.

In other developments yesterday, a judge dismissed counterfeiting charges against Ahmed Chalabi, a wealthy Iraqi exile and one-time Pentagon favorite, citing lack of evidence.

An aide to radical Shi’ite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr warned that his supporters could rise up again if Iraqi authorities continued raiding his offices and detaining his followers. Earlier this week, U.S. troops raided Sheik al-Sadr’s office in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf and detained about a dozen people.

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