BAGHDAD, Iraq – Militants in Iraq took an Egyptian diplomat hostage Friday and demanded his country forsake any plans it had to send security experts here, according to a video broadcast Friday on the Al-Jazeera television station.
The station also showed a separate videotape from another militant group which abducted seven foreign truck drivers, who issued new demands for the company to compensate the families of those killed in battles with U.S. forces in Fallujah (search). The company was given 48 hours to comply.
Earlier Friday, U.S. forces launched a "precision attack" against a suspected gathering of insurgents outside a house in Fallujah, wounding five civilians, while a roadside bomb killed two American soldiers near Samarra, the U.S. military said.
An Egyptian diplomat in Baghdad, who declined to be identified, confirmed that Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb (search) was abducted Friday. The diplomat said Qutb was taken while leaving a mosque.
The videotape show Qutb sitting in front of six masked kidnappers. They were clad in black hoods and robes, with white headbands. One was holding an assault rifle and another had a pistol on his hip.
The group, which called itself the "Lions of Allah Brigade (search)," said it abducted Qutb because the Egyptian government said it was prepared to deploy security experts to help the interim government in Iraq.
The video was inaudible, but the Al-Jazeera newscaster paraphrased it. No specific threat against Qutb, who was wearing a pale, open-necked shirt, was mentioned.
Qutb, who said he was being treated well, added that the Egyptian mission in Baghdad was not cooperating with the U.S.-led multinational force and was only trying to help rebuild Iraq, the newscaster said.
Egypt has offered to train Iraqi police and security personnel in Egypt, but it has declined to deploy military forces in Iraq.
Egypt has a diplomatic mission and a charge d'affairs in Baghdad. It has not yet restored relations with Iraq at the ambassadorial level.
At Al-Jazeera's head office in Qatar, a producer said the station received the tape Friday from its Baghdad bureau.
On the second videotape, the militant group calling itself "The Holders of the Black Banners (search)" also demanded the release of Iraqi detainees in Kuwaiti and U.S. prisons.
In an announcement Wednesday, the group said it would behead one captive every 72 hours beginning Saturday night if the Kuwaiti trucking company they work for did not stop doing business in Iraq and their countries did not pull their citizens out of the country.
In the new tape, a masked man stood behind the seven hostages — an Egyptian, three Kenyans and three Indians — and read a statement, with a black banner bearing Quranic verses and the name of the group on the wall behind him.
The U.S. attack, like several other recent strikes in Fallujah, was conducted in coordination with the Iraqi government, and it targeted 10-12 terrorists linked to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the military said.
Al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for a series of car bombings and beheadings of foreigners in Iraq in recent months.
Associated Press Television News video showed a huge crater beside the targeted house.
"We have nothing to do with the resistance or al-Zarqawi," Saddam Jassim said as he and his brother cleared debris. "These are pretexts used by the U.S. military to terrorize the people in Fallujah because U.S. soldiers are unable to face the insurgents."
Marines pulled back from Fallujah — a focal point of resistance — after besieging it for three weeks in April. Since then, the military has used missile attacks and airstrikes against potential targets, and Friday's strike was the seventh in about a month.
The roadside bombing south of Samarra that killed the two Americans also wounded one soldier, a military official said on condition of anonymity. The city 60 miles north of Baghdad was the scene of battles this week that killed four Iraqis and wounded five.
The American deaths raised the U.S. toll in Iraq since the beginning of the war to 902, according to an Associated Press count. Iraq has been wracked by a 15-month-long insurgency that has used car bombings, sabotage, kidnappings and other violence to try to drive out coalition forces and hamper reconstruction efforts.
Iraq's interim prime minister urged Syria to work more closely with his government, saying during a visit there Friday that it was time for "a new stage of honest and brotherly cooperation."
Syria, which strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, has greeted Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's government with suspicion, questioning whether it is a U.S. puppet regime. Yet Syria was long a haven for Iraqis opposed to Saddam.
Also, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led an uprising against U.S. forces, condemned militants who have beheaded foreigners in recent months — two days after a decapitated body was found on the banks of the Tigris, accompanied by a severed head in a bag.
"Anybody doing this is a criminal and we will punish him according to Islamic law," al-Sadr said.
The military also said a van carrying Iraqi civilians collided with a U.S. tank Thursday night near Baghdad, killing nine people and injuring 10 — all civilians. Iraqis said 18 people were injured and all the dead, including one child, were from the same family, which was returning to Baghdad from a wedding party in Tarmiyah, 30 miles to the north.
Another crash Friday between an armored vehicle and a car in Baqouba injured two Iraqis, who received medical treatment at a nearby coalition base, U.S. 1st Infantry Division spokesman Maj. Neal O'Brien said.
Baqouba police Lt. Ahmed Sadiq said the crash killed two people and wounded three. The discrepancy could not immediately be resolved.
A roadside bomb Friday wounded a bus driver and eight passengers — including a pregnant woman and two children — in Baghdad's northern suburb of Toubechi, police Lt. Rajab Saleh said. The bus driver ignored police warnings not to enter the area, he said.