Militants in Iraq said Sunday they took a top Iranian diplomat hostage, according to a video shown on the Arab-language Al-Arabiya television station.
The video showed a bearded man identified as Faridoun Jihani (search) speaking to the camera, though his voice was inaudible. The video also showed nine forms of Jihani's identification, as well as his passport and a business card identifying him as the "consul for the Islamic Republic of Iran in Karbala," a southern Iraqi city.
The kidnappers, calling themselves the "Islamic Army in Iraq (search)," accused Jihani of provoking sectarian war in Iraq and warned Iran not to interfere in Iraq's affairs, according to Al-Arabiya.
The kidnappers did not voice any threats to kill Jihani and made no demands, according to the report.
In Tehran (search), the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Jihani was missing, but it stopped short of confirming he was kidnapped.
Jihani "disappeared Wednesday night on the road from Baghdad to Karbala," a Shiite holy city 50 miles south of the capital, the ministry said in a statement. "After he failed to reach Karbala, all efforts to find his whereabouts failed," it said.
Iran, a Shiite Muslim country with close ties to Iraq's majority Shiite population, is believed to have used money and intelligence — but not weapons — to influence its western neighbor. It is accused of funding Shiite political parties in a bid to influence the planned January elections while avoiding a direct confrontation with longtime rival the United States.
Tehran denies interfering in Iraq, including by allowing money transfers. It rejects U.S. claims that it allows fighters to cross into Iraq, but it does not rule out that fighters might cross the long border illegally.
Jihani would be the second senior diplomat taken hostage in Iraq in recent weeks. Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb (search), an Egyptian diplomat, was abducted July 23 outside a mosque in Baghdad and freed unharmed July 26.
More than 70 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq in recent months in an effort by insurgents to force coalition members to withdraw forces and to pressure trucking companies supporting coalition troops to stop doing business here.