BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Egyptian foreign ministry said Monday its diplomat kidnapped by militants in Iraq has been released.
Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb (search), described as the third-ranking diplomat at the Egyptian mission in Baghdad (search), was snatched Friday as he walked out of a mosque. In a video released by "The Lions of Allah Brigade," the militants said they had taken Qutb to deter Egypt from sending troops.
His kidnapping was a signal the insurgents were starting to target higher-ranking foreigners.
Militants in Iraq said Monday they had kidnapped two Jordanian drivers and threatened to kill them in 72 hours if their Jordanian company did not stop doing business with the American military.
In a video obtained by Associated Press Television News, the group calling itself the Mujahedeen Corps (search) said the company, Rami al-Ouweiss (search), would "bear the consequences of the killing and retribution against these two men."
The video showed the two drivers seated on the floor, while six masked militants, carrying a variety of weapons including a sword, stood behind them.
The two men, identified as Fayez Saad al-Udwan and Ahmed Salama Hassan, said they were being treated well and pleaded with their employers to meet their captors' demands. Hassan called upon all Arabs and Muslims "not to deal with the Americans and to aid the militants."
Al-Udwan, who at one point held up his Jordanian identification card, said he was "regretful," and if he could turn back time he would not have worked with this company.
"This money is tainted, come see what has befallen the (Iraqi) children, and the American injustice," he said. "They have no fear of God."
Asked by one of the kidnappers what made him come to Iraq if he knew that, al-Udwan replied "I did not think of the consequences."
Hassan said he is from Baqaa, one of the largest Palestinian refugees camp in Jordan, while al-Udwan said he is from southern Shouna.
Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khader said the government was following the news of the kidnappings.
"Our initial information is that both work for a private company that has a connection to importing food supplies to Iraq," she said.
Militants in Iraq have repeatedly taken foreign Muslims hostages, but in many cases eventually released their captives.
The drivers, at one point speaking with guns pointed at their heads, said all the foreign companies working in Iraq were collaborating with U.S. forces.
The hostages called on their government to intervene and force the company to pull out of Iraq and specifically from U.S. bases here.
Also on Monday, an Iraqi militant group holding seven foreign truck drivers hostage extended its deadline, while another militant group said it has kidnapped two Pakistanis and intends to kill them because their country is considering sending troops to Iraq.
Insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped nearly 70 people in their violent campaign to drive out coalition forces and hamper reconstruction. It is not clear to what extent the insurgent groups are coordinating the kidnappings.
But the brazen attacks suggest insurgents are growing bolder, especially since the Philippines agreed earlier this month to withdraw troops from Iraq to save the life of a Filipino truck driver.
Kidnappers calling themselves "The Holders of the Black Banners" appeared in a video on Arab television to announce they were extending the deadline for seven foreign drivers who work for a Kuwaiti company. They did not say for how long.
The footage shows the hostages sitting or kneeling on the floor in traditional Arab gowns. Three masked kidnappers are standing behind them, two of them holding rifles and flanking a third who read out their statement.
It referred to negotiation efforts by Sheik Hisham al-Dulayni (search), head of an organization for Iraqi tribal leaders.
"In response to the call by Sheik al-Dulayni, who is leading negotiations, we have approved the following: First, extension of the period to continue negotiations. Second, emphasizing to the Kuwaiti company to withdraw. Third, warning the Indian government not to attack, but to protect Islamic religious leaders."
The group said last week it had abducted three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian, demanding their employer, Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Co. (search), stop doing business in Iraq and that their governments withdraw their citizens.
Initially the group gave a Saturday night deadline, but the abductors on Friday extended it 48 hours.
At that time, they also added the demand that the Kuwaiti company pay compensation for those killed by U.S. forces in the city of Fallujah and demanding the release of all Iraqi detainees in Kuwaiti and U.S. prisons.
Thousands of foreigners have found jobs in Iraq as contract workers for coalition forces, in crucial reconstruction jobs or as truck drivers hauling cargo for private companies.
Also Monday, another militant group claimed it has kidnapped two Pakistanis and an Iraqi contract driver. The group calling itself the "Islamic Army in Iraq" appeared on Al-Jazeera television to say the Pakistanis have been sentenced to die. It did not say when that would happen.
The statement also warned the men's employer, the Kuwaiti firm al-Tamimi (search), to stop doing business in Iraq or it would kill more of its workers.
The video showed a photo of the three hostages standing with Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (search), a former senior U.S. military official in Iraq.
Pakistani officials had said they were looking for two nationals — an engineer and a driver — who disappeared in Iraq on Friday.
Pakistan, an Islamic nation of 150 million people, is a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, but the country's leadership has been less supportive for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
However, Pakistan Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has said Pakistan might consider sending troops to Iraq if asked by the interim government and if other Islamic countries also agree to contribute peacekeeping forces.
In June, Iraqi insurgents kidnapped and threatened to behead another Pakistani, Amjad Hafeez, but he was later freed.