By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 10/26/2005 | 12:07 am
Al-Qaida's branch in Iraq said on Tuesday it had abducted two Moroccan embassy employees who had gone missing on their way from Jordan to Baghdad. Meanwhile, three Moroccan diplomats visited Amman yesterday to undertake the necessary contacts and contribute to the search efforts underway to find the two employees.
"Your brothers in the military wing of al-Qaida Organization in Iraq have captured the two Moroccans working at the Moroccan government's embassy in Baghdad. Their interrogation is continuing," said an al-Qaida statement on a website, without providing further details.
The statement could not be verified, but it was signed by al-Qaida's spokesman in Iraq and posted on a main website used by insurgents.
The new claim came a day after al-Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for a triple attack on Baghdad hotels that killed at least 44 people, according to a statement also posted on an Islamist website.
Earlier the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation said that the two employees of the Moroccan embassy in Iraq had disappeared since Oct. 20. Driver Abderrahim Boualam, 55, and assistant Abdelkrim El Mouhafidi, 49, both went last week to the Moroccan embassy in Jordan to get their salaries, but disappeared on their way back to Iraq, confirmed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Residing in Iraq since 1979, Boualem is married to an Iraqi and father of three children. He was recruited by the embassy as a driver in 2002. Al Mouhafidi has been in Iraq since 1982. He is also married to an Iraqi and has been employed in the embassy since 1993 as an assistant.
Amid speculation of a presumed kidnapping, the Moroccan embassy in Baghdad immediately launched an investigation in cooperation with the Iraqi authorities.
A former Iraqi diplomat told Morocco Times that the two employees had disappeared on the road between the Jordanian capital Amman and Baghdad, a road widely feared for repeated kidnappings carried out by ordinary criminals or insurgents.
He added that the best way to trace the fate of the two kidnapped Moroccans is to coordinate with US troops, since they are responsible for security in Iraq. The Iraqi diplomat also advised the Moroccan authorities to contact the leaders of the al-Dlim tribes, mainly Sheikh Amer Abdul-Jabbar Suleiman and Sheikh Abdelhamid el Kharbit, who live in the mostly desert province which borders Jordan to the west. The former diplomat said that securing contacts with these two leaders will help Morocco identify their kidnapping conditions.
Earlier, the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida also claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and killing of two Algerian diplomats, Ali Belaroussi, 62, and Azzedine Belkadi, 47, in Baghdad in July.
On July 7, the same group said it had killed the Egyptian chargé d'affaires in Baghdad, Ihab al-Sherif, who had been kidnapped five days earlier.
Guerrilla strikes have driven diplomats from the Iraqi capital, undermining the US-backed government's efforts to gain support among Arab countries.