Gunmen in Iraq abducted six Egyptians and four Iraqis employed by a mobile phone company, authorities reported today. The kidnappings added to a growing list of hostages seized by militant groups in increasingly bold raids on homes and offices occupied by foreigners.
Two of the Egyptians were kidnapped Thursday night when armed men invaded the office of the Iraqna mobile phone company in a well-off Baghdad neighborhood and tied up office guards, officials said. The two communications engineers were bundled into a black BMW and driven away, news agencies reported.
On Wednesday, four Egyptian engineers and four Iraqis from the same company or contractors were kidnapped west of Baghdad, reportedly in Fallujah, in circumstances that were not immediately clear, the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad reported.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the abduction of the Egyptians, and a senior official of the Cairo-based parent company of Iraqna Mobile Net said he did not believe the two who were seized in Baghdad were taken for political reasons, the Associated Press reported.
The kidnappings were carried out in a manner similar to the abductions of two American contractors and a British engineer from their house in Baghdad last week and the seizure of two Italian women aid workers and a male Iraqi employee from an office in the capital earlier this month.
A militant group headed by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi claimed responsibility for last week's kidnapping and beheaded the two Americans -- Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley -- after the expiration of a deadline Monday for the release of Muslim women held by the U.S. military in Iraq.
There was no immediate word on the fate of the Briton, Kenneth Bigley, and members of his family pleaded for his life today.
The U.S. military has said only two Iraqi women are in its custody, Rihab Taha and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, both of them biologists who allegedly worked on former president Saddam Hussein's biological weapons programs.
In a statement posted on the Internet, a group claiming to have kidnapped the two Italian women -- Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both 29 -- asserted that it had killed them. But the Italian Foreign Ministry cast doubt on the claim and said it had no new information on the aid workers.
The latest kidnappings coincided with the U.S. visit of the Iraqi interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who painted an optimistic picture of Iraq's security situation in an address to a joint session of Congress yesterday and in an appearance with President Bush in the White House Rose Garden.
Allawi told reporters in the Rose Garden that 14 to 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces "are completely safe."
Earlier, he told Congress that his government's efforts to build democracy are opposed by a "tiny minority" of Iraq's population. "The insurgency in Iraq is disruptive but small, and it has not and will never resonate with the Iraqi people," he said.
So far, armed groups in Iraq have kidnapped more than 140 foreigners and killed more than two dozen of them, including three Americans. In addition, three other Americans -- a U.S. Army soldier and two contract truckers -- have been missing since an April 9 attack on a fuel convoy.