Operator of mobile company in Iraq says envoy probably still alive

CAIRO (AP) — The Egyptian owner of a mobile phone network in Iraq said Wednesday he was convinced that Egypt’s top envoy, believed slain by his abductors, is most likely alive, because of information he has obtained. The government said it had no indications he was still alive.
Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris told the Associated Press that he shared this information with the Egyptian government, but refused to say what it was or where he got it from.

Ihab Al Sherif is believed to have been killed after Al Qaeda in Iraq led by Jordanian mastermind Abu Mussab Zarqawi, claimed on July 7 that it murdered him because Egypt intended to restore full diplomatic relations as a sign of support for Iraq’s new government.

“We have information suggesting that the Egyptian ambassador is still alive and has not been killed,” Sawiris told the pro-government Al Gomhouria newspaper, in remarks published Wednesday that were later confirmed by the Associated Press.

Soon after Zarqawi’s group announced his slaying, the Egyptian government said it had confirmed Sherif’s death from several sources in Iraq. Still, no body has been found, and militants did not put out a video showing his slaying.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, asked about reports Sherif might still be alive, said Wednesday he had no such information. About material evidence of his death, Aboul Gheit said: “We have no leads in this direction.

“When an Egyptian diplomat or citizen is kidnapped, it is important to be careful in handling the issue, so that any comments would not result in harm,” Aboul Gheit told reporters.

Still, Aboul Gheit told parliament on Tuesday that there was a “slim hope” that Sherif was still alive, the independent daily Al Masri Al Youm reported.

Sawiris would not give details on the information suggesting Sherif was alive. “I will not put his life at risk to give you news,” said Sawiris in a telephone interview with the AP.

“These people are Muslims who kidnapped him,” and they would follow the principle of “honouring the dead in burying him,” he said. Muslims honour their deceased by burying them soon after death, traditionally before sunset.

“If they had a body they should and could give it back.”

“Why don’t they?” Sawiris asked.

Sawiris’ giant telecommunications Orascom heads a consortium operating a mobile phone service in central Iraq, and he is reportedly considered the richest man in Egypt.

Egypt held a state memorial service for Sherif, and President Hosni Mubarak told the family he would personally assume responsibility for their care.

At the time, Egyptian media and opposition groups lambasted the government for sending an envoy to Iraq with the security situation as unstable as it is.

Last week, the Iraqi government announced the arrest of a suspect in the murder of Sherif. The US military identified the suspect as Khamis Abdul-Fahdawi, known as Abu Seba, and said he was captured during operations in the Ramadi area west of Baghdad.

Al Qaeda group in Iraq posted an Internet statement denying Abu Seba’s involvement in the kidnapping or killing of the diplomat.

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