BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Egypt”s top envoy to Iraq was kidnapped in Baghdad just weeks after arriving in the country, Egyptian diplomats said Sunday. Witnesses said gunmen accosted him as he stopped to buy a newspaper, beat him and accused him of being an "American spy."
Elsewhere, a car bomb killed three Iraqi policemen north of Baghdad on Sunday, officials said. A police general and the government”s industry minister escaped assassination in attacks on their vehicles, officials said Sunday.
Two diplomats, speaking in Cairo and Baghdad on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the Egyptian envoy, Ihab al-Sherif, was kidnapped late Saturday in the Iraqi capital. Al-Sherif has been in Iraq since June 1.
Last month, the Egyptian government said it would upgrade its mission in Iraq to full embassy status headed by an ambassador, but it was not immediately clear if al-Sherif had been given the ambassadorial title.
The diplomats gave no immediate details of the kidnapping.
However, three Iraqis who claimed they witnessed the attack said al-Sherif was driving alone in a vehicle with diplomatic license plates when he stopped to buy a newspaper from a store on the Rabie Street in Baghdad”s western al-Jamaa neighborhood.
About eight gunmen surrounded him, the witnesses said on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals. One of them struck him on the head with a pistol butt as others shouted that he was "an American spy," the witnesses said.
They shoved him into the trunk of a car and sped away. Bystanders reported the incident to a passing American convoy. U.S. soldiers searched al-Sherif”s car, which was removed Sunday.
Al-Sherif was the second Egyptian diplomat to have been kidnapped in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein”s regime in 2003. Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, then Egypt”s third-ranking diplomat, was seized June 23, 2004 by Islamic militants who claimed they wanted to deter Egypt from deploying troops in Iraq.
He was freed a month later after Egypt reaffirmed it had no intention of sending soldiers to Iraq.
The latest abduction occurred as the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari struggles to curb mounting attacks by Sunni Arab insurgents and find a formula for including the influential religious minority in the rebuilding of the country.
More than 1,400 people have been killed since al-Jaafari announced his new government April 28.
On Sunday, a car bomb exploded next to an Iraqi police patrol near the northern city of Kirkuk, killing three policemen and injuring one civilian, army Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said.
In Baghdad, gunmen fired on a car carrying police Brig. Gen. Abdul Hussein Hamid Khalaf on Sunday, wounding him and killing his son, police said. Late Saturday, Industry Minister Osama Abdul Aziz Najafi escaped assassination when gunmen fired on his convoy in western Baghdad, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity. Four bodyguards were wounded, the official said.
Also in Baghdad, gunmen killed Shiite cleric Adil al-Janabi and one of his bodyguards in a drive-by shooting Saturday night, police said.
In Ramadi, fire destroyed a U.S. military helicopter, injuring one crewman, the U.S. military said Sunday. The CH-47 Chinook, valued at $13.5 million, caught fire on the ground Saturday night, the U.S. military said. No further details were released pending an investigation.
The fresh attacks occurred a day after suicide bombers struck in Baghdad and a Shiite city south of the capital, killing 26 people and injuring nearly 50. In the first attack, a bomber with explosives strapped to his body blew himself up outside a recruiting station for police special forces in western Baghdad, killing at least 16 people, mostly recruits, and injuring 22 other people.
In Hillah, a mostly Shiite city 60 miles south of Baghdad, two suicide attackers struck Saturday night. Six policemen were killed in addition to the attackers and 22 people were injured, police said.
A Web statement in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq took responsibility for the Baghdad suicide bombing, although it was impossible to confirm the authenticity. There was no immediate claim for the Hillah attacks.