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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 July, 2005, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Egypt ambassador seized in Iraq
Egypt's ambassador to Iraq Ihab al-Sherif
Sherif had only been in Iraq for five weeks before he was kidnapped
Egypt's new ambassador to Iraq has been kidnapped, within five weeks of arriving in the country.

Ihab al-Sherif was seized by gunmen in Baghdad on Saturday evening as he was buying a newspaper, witnesses said.

An Egyptian official said Mr Sherif had gone to Iraq to help its people, and called on his kidnappers to treat him well and to see him as an Arab patriot.

The kidnappers may have been angered by Egypt's decision to upgrade ties, says the BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo.

He was buying a newspaper on Saturday evening when two BMWs full of gunmen blocked his way and kidnapped him
Unnamed Egyptian diplomat

Mr Sherif arrived in Baghdad on 1 June as Egypt's top diplomat, and was subsequently upgraded to ambassador.

Last week, Iraq's foreign minister praised Egypt for becoming the first Arab country to upgrade ties with Iraq.

Many Arab countries withdrew their ambassadors from Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

The US has been encouraging Arab countries to appoint ambassadors to Baghdad in an attempt to strengthen the new state and undermine the insurgency.

'American spy'

Unnamed sources said the ambassador was buying a newspaper when "two BMWs full of gunmen blocked his way and kidnapped him".

Egyptian embassy
A security cordon is in place around the Egyptian embassy

Witnesses told the Associated Press news agency one of the gunmen had hit him on the head with a pistol butt as the others shouted that he was "an American spy".

The gunmen then shoved Mr Sherif into the boot of a car and sped away, witnesses said.

Police have built a security cordon around the embassy and US soldiers searched Mr Sherif's car, which was parked close to the reported kidnap scene.

More than 270 foreign hostages from 37 countries have been captured since the Iraq insurgency flared after the siege of Falluja in April 2004.

Many more Iraqis have been taken hostage, usually accused of collaborating with the invasion.

Several Egyptian nationals have been abducted, but most have been released unharmed.

Last July, militants briefly kidnapped Egyptian diplomat Mohamed Mamdouh Qutb.

In that incident, gunmen claiming to be from the Lions of Allah Brigade said the kidnapping was a response to an Egyptian offer to train Iraq's security forces. Egypt later withdrew the offer.

See where the kidnapping is thought to have taken place

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