Freed Egyptian Diplo Back On Job

American military police stand guard near the site where a car laden with explosives blew up near the eastern entrance to the capital's Sarafiya Bridge, Baghdad, Iraq Monday July 26, 2004. A car bomb blast and mortar fire rocked central Baghdad early Monday and three Iraqi civilians suffered minor wounds.
A senior Egyptian diplomat returned to work Tuesday a day after being released by militants, while a Baghdad mortar barrage killed an Iraqi garbage collector and injured 14 coalition soldiers. Gunmen also killed a hospital official south of the capital.

The release of Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, the third ranking diplomat at the Egyptian mission here, came as two different militant groups threatened to kill four new foreign hostages in an increasingly audacious wave of kidnappings in Iraq. A third group threatened attacks to cut off the highway between Jordan and Baghdad, a key supply route for the U.S. military.

As Qutb arrived at the Egyptian Embassy in Mansour, northwest of Baghdad, he thanked "all the people concerned in securing his release."

"Thanks to God, we are going to perform our work at the embassy, there is no problem," Qutb told reporters.

In other recent developments:

  • An explosion outside the volatile city of Fallujah on Tuesday injured six Iraqis, according to hospital officials. The explosion partially damaged a house in the village of Niemieyah, south of the city, witnesses said. It was not immediately clear if the blast came from an airstrike or mortar fire. The U.S. military has conducted seven airstrikes against suspected terror hideouts in Fallujah in recent weeks.
  • The U.N. controller chairing an oversight body for Iraq said it may take more than a year to establish a system to track how much oil is being produced in the Mideast country.
  • In the southern city of Basra, about 50 armed members of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's personal militia snatched about 20 people Monday during raids against people selling and drinking alcohol, police said. The detainees were later handed over to police. During the raids, militiamen dragged men out of their houses and smashed cartons of canned drinks, apparently beer, Al-Arabiya TV showed in broadcast footage.

    Four or five mortars were fired early Tuesday toward Baghdad's so-called Green Zone, the site of Iraq's interim government and the U.S. and British embassies, the U.S. military said.

    One mortar hit the Salhiya district, just outside the Green Zone, killing an Iraqi garbage collector and injuring another, according to an Associated Press Television News cameraman at the scene.

    "This poor guy was just doing his job and he has been killed by a mortar ... intended for the coalition," local resident Muthana Joma Hassoun told APTN.

    A military spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said mortar fire injured 14 soldiers, but their nationalities, the exact location of the attack and the seriousness of their wounds were not immediately clear.

    South of Baghdad, gunmen assassinated the assistant director of Mahmoudiya Hospital, the hospital's chief said Tuesday.

    Dr. Qassem el-Obaidi was shot dead by assailants in a car as he was driving home from work late Monday, said the hospital's director, Dr. Daoud al-Ta'i. Mahmoudiya is about 25 miles south of Baghdad.

    The violence has deeply hampered efforts to rebuild Iraq and made countries reluctant to send troops to assist the new government.

    The Egyptian diplomat's kidnappers said they had seized him to deter his country from giving security aid to Iraq. An Egyptian official in Cairo said no ransom was paid, and the kidnappers released Qutb after realizing Egypt was not sending troops.

    When asked by reporters outside his embassy Tuesday how he was treated by the militants, Qutb said: "The treatment was very good. They set me free."

    The group, The Lions of Allah Brigade, said it freed Qutb because he was a religious man and had good morals, according to a statement sent to Al-Jazeera TV.

    The Islamic Army in Iraq announced it had kidnapped two Pakistanis and passed a death sentence against them, partly because of Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's statements about possibly sending troops to Iraq. The group did not say when it would kill the men, identified by Pakistan as engineer Raja Azad, 49, and driver Sajad Naeem, 29.

    Separately, a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Corps announced it was holding two Jordanian drivers and threatened to kill the men in 72 hours unless their Jordanian company stops cooperating with U.S. forces and stops working here.

    The video showed the two, identified as Fayez Saad al-Udwan and Ahmed Salama Hassan, seated on the floor, while six masked militants, carrying a variety of weapons including a sword, stood behind them.

    In Amman, relatives of al-Udwan and Hassan threatened to kill the director of their company, Daoud and Partners, unless he immediately complies with the kidnappers' demands.

    "We will chop off the head of the firm's director if he doesn't heed to our demands to completely cease his operation in Iraq," Hassan's father, Salama, told reporters in the Jordanian capital.

    In Islamabad, Musharraf appealed for the release of the two abducted Pakistanis. The two hostages were "economic immigrants, working abroad to earn a livelihood for their poor families," Musharraf and his prime minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said in a statement.

    Insurgents have used the violence and more recently the abductions to sow chaos, pressure countries to withdraw their troops and scare foreign contractors.

    A group calling itself the "Group of Death" warned that it would start attacks against traffic on the main highway from Baghdad to the Jordan border on Friday, saying it would hit at Jordanians as well as Americans.

    "We consider all Jordanian interests, companies and businessmen and citizens as much a target as the Americans," a masked gunman said in a video obtained by Associated Press Television News.

    More than 70 foreigners have been snatched in recent months, but the kidnappings escalated after the Philippines decided to withdraw its soldiers last week to secure the release of a captive truck driver.

    George Sada, Allawi's spokesman, expressed regret at the Philippines' decision: "We think that to bow to the terrorists' threats is the wrong policy."