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Iraqi construction chief latest in rash of abductions

Truck drivers' captors negotiating


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(CNN) -- Gunmen abducted the chief of a government-owned construction company in Iraq on Saturday, according to a Ministry of Interior spokesman.

It is the latest in a recent series of kidnappings in Iraq, including the capture of the third-ranking Egyptian diplomat in the country.

Raad Adnan, the director-general of the al-Mansour Contracting Company, was abducted shortly before 10 a.m. on al-Rubaie Street in the Zeiouna district of Baghdad, Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman said.

The company is run by the Ministry of Housing and Construction.

Meanwhile, negotiators trying to secure the release of seven truck drivers held captive in Iraq have spoken directly with the kidnappers and are positive the deadline will be extended -- despite a new set of demands from the abductors, an Egyptian official told CNN Saturday.

"I wouldn't worry much about days or hours," said Adel Rahim Shalaby, Egyptian ambassador to Kuwait. "There are ongoing negotiations, we hope there will be a positive conclusion, that a resolution will be found."

The group of kidnappers, which calls itself the Black Banners, is holding one Egyptian along with three Indians and three Kenyans, all truck drivers with the Kuwait and Gulf Transportation Co. (KGL).

In a videotape broadcast on the Arabic language network Al-Jazeera Friday, the Black Banners demanded KGL pay the families of "those killed in Fallujah" within 48 hours and that all prisoners held in U.S. prisons be released.

The group initially threatened to behead the drivers one by one, in a separate video released on Arabic network Al Arabiya on Wednesday, if KGL did not pull out of Iraq by Saturday.

KGL said it has "no presence whatsoever in Iraq" and that the company was only transporting material and equipment urgently needed by the Iraqi people.

The Egyptian Embassy in Kuwait says it is co-leading the diplomatic drive to free the hostages and is in "constant contact" with KGL.

KGL remains very optimistic about the release of its employees, according to Rana Abu-Zaineh, KGL's Manpower Planning Manager.

"We will do whatever it will takes to bring our employees home safe," she said. "We are on the right track in the process of releasing the hostages. We are getting there in our own way, we hope that we will receive them very soon."

Shalaby said negotiators have direct physical contact with the kidnappers. He would not discuss the specifics of the group's demands, but said the deadline extension is a good sign the talks are going well.

Egypt is also working to secure the release of Momdoh Kotb, the third-highest official at its embassy in Baghdad. He was abducted by a group calling itself the Lion of God Brigades.

A videotape of masked militants surrounding Kotb was aired Friday on Al-Jazeera, and the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad confirmed Kotb's identity.

The previously unknown group said it took the diplomat hostage in response to Egypt's offer to Iraq of help in security matters. The group has made no demands at this time.

In response to the kidnapping of its three citizens, the government of Kenya asked all of its citizens to leave Iraq, a government spokesman said.

"We plead with the kidnappers to release the men so that they may be reunited with their families," spokesman Alfred Mutua said at a Thursday press conference.

The Kenyans are Faiz Khamis Salim, 39, Jalal Mohamed Awadh, 39, and Ibrahim Khamis Idd, 48. All are from Mombassa, and are married with children.

Chirau Ali Mwakwere, Kenya's minister of foreign affairs, said, "We wish to reiterate that Kenya has no troops, observers, official presence or companies in Iraq and did not take sides during the Iraqi conflict.

"We therefore appeal to the kidnappers to immediately release the Kenyans who are not combatants but who are earning an honest living."

India and Egypt also do not have troops in Iraq.

India's Foreign Minister Natwar Singh Thursday spoke to various Arab satellite networks in an attempt to help secure the release of the three Indians, according to an adviser to the Indian prime minister, Sanjaya Baru.

The three Indian hostages are Tilak Raj, Sukh Dev Singh, and Antaryami -- all from northwestern India near the Pakistan border.

A few months ago, India passed a law banning its nationals from traveling to Iraq because of the security situation; however, thousands of Indians continue to work across the Middle East, including Iraq.

News of the kidnapped truck drivers came on the same day Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz arrived in Manila after the Philippines met his captors' demand to remove the 51-member Filipino contingent from Iraq, a month ahead of schedule. His abductors had threatened to behead him.

The Philippine government has been criticized for giving into the terrorists' demands, which could encourage other insurgents to continue abducting foreigners as ransom for their demands.


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