Iraqi captors 'demand Iran free POWs'

A group holding an Iranian diplomat in Iraq will "punish" him within 48 hours if Iran does not release 500 prisoners captured in its 1980-1988 war with Iraq, Iranian state television says.

    Iranian spokesman Asifi says all Iraqi POWs have been released

    The so-called Islamic Army seized

    diplomat Fereydun Jahani on 4 August as he travelled to take up

    his position as consul in Karbala.

    Iran says it has returned all Iraqis held in its war with

    its western neighbour and the final group was repatriated last

    year, shortly before US-led troops invaded Iraq to topple

    President Saddam Hussein.

    "The file concerning prisoners of war between the two

    countries is closed and all that remains is that of those

    missing in action," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Riza Asifi

    told Iran's official news agency IRNA on Sunday.

    Asifi described the demand and the nature of the Islamic

    Army group as "suspicious" and said Iraq's interim government

    was responsible for securing the diplomat's release.

    'Sectarian strife'

    Iran was in contact with groups it felt could help secure

    Jahani's release, he said, without giving further details.

    Jahani's captors accused him of "inciting sectarian strife

    and operating outside the sphere of diplomacy".

    Iraq's Defence Minister Hazim al-Shalaan has accused Iran of

    stirring insurrection in Iraq by sending spies and arms across

    the border.

    Washington has also accused Shia Muslim Iran of fomenting unrest

    among Iraq's Shia community.

    Iran denies the charges.

    Egyptian hostage

    Meanwhile, Egypt has been unable to confirm if one of its citizens

    has been beheaded in Iraq, as claimed by a website.

    Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait said on Sunday: "

    There is no proof an Egyptian citizen was decapitated by an

    armed Iraqi group who accused him of being a spy for the United

    States."

    Abu al-Ghait (L) says there is no
    proof an Egyptian was beheaded

    A website on Friday broadcast a video which it said

    showed an Egyptian hostage in Iraq being beheaded by a

    group belongimg to alleged resistance leader

     Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

    The apparent victim, who gave his name as Muhammad Fawzi Abd al-

    Mutwalli, is seen encircled by three hooded gunmen and confesses in

    the videotape to having worked as a spy for US forces in Iraq.

    After the young man's statement, one of the men steps forward

    and cuts his neck with a long knife.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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