Musharraf and his Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said they had "received with the greatest distress and anguish the news of the reported murder of two Pakistanis," in a strongly worded statement issued to the state-run news agency in Islamabad on Thursday.

The reaction came shortly after an Iraqi group said that it had killed two Pakistani nationals but freed their Iraqi driver, in a video received by Aljazeera on Wednesday.

The men, Raja Azad, 49, an engineer and driver Sajad Naeem, 29, went missing on Friday after a convoy of vehicles they were travelling in was attacked. Both were working in Iraq for the Kuwait-based al-Tamimi group.

Father's plea

The father of Naeem had earlier urged his captors to "feel the
pain of a fellow Muslim" and free him.

"I appeal to them to release my son, because they are also
Muslims and a Muslim can feel the pain of a fellow Muslim," said Muhammad Naeem Khan.

"I appeal to them to release my son, because they are also
Muslims and a Muslim can feel the pain of a fellow Muslim"

Muhammad Naeem Khan,
father of Pakistani captive killed 

Their captors, who call themselves the Islamic Army in Iraq, announced in a video sent to Aljazeera on Monday that it had seized the men and sentenced them to death "after interrogating them" because their country was discussing sending troops to Iraq.

In a new tape sent to Aljazeera on Wednesday, the group said it had carried out their threat. The tape displayed the decapitated bodies of the two Pakistanis, but the satellite channel declined to air it citing viewer sensitivities.

The same group said it had freed an Iraqi driver after he had proved that he was deluded and had announced his repentance.

Political position

In Pakistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan termed the killings the "murder of humanity".

Musharraf and Hussain had earlier appealed for the hostages' release, saying they were poor men trying to support their families.

Pakistan, an Islamic nation of 150 million people, has been a key ally of the United States in its "war on terror" in Afghanistan, but the country's leadership has been less supportive of the US war on Iraq.

The nation has so far declined to send troops to Baghdad, though a senior Pakistani diplomat has taken up duties as special envoy in Iraq for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and will be overseeing peacekeeping operations.