BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – The al-Qaeda in Iraq militant group said Thursday that it has sentenced to death two Moroccan embassy employees kidnapped last month in Iraq, the insurgents” latest attempt to scare Arab nations from sending diplomats.
The group said in a statement posted on an Islamist Web forum that its "Islamic court" had judged the two men as "apostates" who were waging a "war on Islam."
"Based on this, the court decided to issue God”s verdict upon the apostates and sentenced them to death," it said.
The statement, whose authenticity could not be confirmed, did not say whether the two men had been killed yet. The Moroccan Foreign Ministry has identified the missing members of its diplomatic mission in Baghdad as driver Abderrahim Boualam and employee Abdelkrim el-Mouhafidi, saying they disappeared Oct. 20 while driving to Baghdad from Jordan, where they had gone to pick up their paychecks.
There was no immediate comment from Moroccan officials.
On Wednesday night, Moroccan Communication Minister Nabil Benabdallah denounced the kidnapping as "abominable" and said the government was pursuing contacts to try to determine their fate.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the most feared insurgent groups in Iraq, has warned Arab nations not to step up their diplomatic missions in Baghdad or send ambassadors.
Iraq”s Shiite-dominated government has been pressing Arab countries to send ambassadors as a sign of support. But after some showed a willingness to do so last spring, al-Qaeda in Iraq kidnapped and killed the head of the Egyptian mission in July, then did the same with the head of the Algerian mission and another Algerian employee.
Since then, Arab governments have shown increased reluctance to send diplomats.
"It has become clear to these governments that they are now in the front line against the mujahedeen in the land of Mesopotamia and that their envoys, from ambassadors on down, have become legitimate targets for (the mujahideen”s) swords," the new al-Qaeda statement said.
The two Moroccans "compounded their disbelief in God and their war on Islam by supporting the government of the Shiite apostates in Baghad," it said. "May they be a new lesson … to those who might follow them, those who dare challenge the mujahideen and set foot in the proud land of Mesopotamia."
Al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has also carried out a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks against civilians, particularly Shiites, and U.S. and Iraqi forces.