President Hosni Mubarak expressed condolences for the death of Egypt's top envoy in the country, Ihab al-Sherif, and called his killers "terrorists" after al-Qaida in Iraq claimed on Thurday to have killed the diplomat.

"This terrorist act will not deter Egypt from its firm position in support of Iraq and its people," Mubarak's office said in a statement carried by the state news agency MENA.

The statement did not say if the Egyptian authorities had independent confirmation of the death of al-Sherif. Al-Qaida in Iraq had earlier in the day posted on a web forum a statement that it killed al-Sherif.

It posted a short video of the diplomat being questioned, but did not show his slaying.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
offered his condolences

The written statement, the authenticity of which could not be confirmed, on Thursday read: "We announce in the al-Qaida in Iraq that the verdict of God against the ambassador of the infidels, the ambassador of Egypt, has been carried out. Thank God."

Al-Qaida in Iraq, reputedly headed by Jordan-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said a day earlier that it had sentenced al-Sherif to death as an apostate for his country's support of the United States and the Iraqi government. The group has previously beheaded several foreign captives, including three Americans.

Al-Sherif, who was sent to Baghdad in early June, was abducted from a Baghdad street late on Saturday.

Video clip

The video shows a man, who appears to be the diplomat, blindfolded and wearing a polo shirt. He identifies himself as al-Sherif, says he is the head of the interests section in Iraq and gives his address. He then says he worked previously in Israel, where al-Sherif was part of the Egyptian embassy.

"The reason we delayed the announcement of capturing the ambassador of the dictator Egypt was to be able to capture as many ambassadors as we can"

Al-Qaida in Iraq website statement

Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials could not be immediately reached.

The statement said al-Qaida had hoped to take more ambassadors. "The reason we delayed the announcement of capturing the ambassador of the dictator Egypt was to be able to capture as many ambassadors as we can," it said, referring to the fact that al-Qaida did not announce al-Sherif's capture until several days later.

Egypt censured

The statement denounced the Egyptian government as apostate for its support of the US. It said al-Sherif gave his captors under interrogation "information making clear the infidel nature of the (Egyptian) regime and his confessions have been recorded".

Egypt is criticised for agreeing to
train Iraqi security forces

"The Egyptian regime is one of the first to launch war on Islam and Muslims, since several decades," the statement said, pointing to Egypt's crackdown on Islamic militants on its own soil and its agreement to train Iraqi security forces.

"It was first to obey the crusaders in ... sending the first ambassador to the (Iraqi) government," it said, referring to Egypt's announcement last month that it would send an ambassador to Baghdad, the first Arab government to do so.

"Our shaikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ... is determined to stand up to traitors and crusaders and all those who stand with them, and we vow to all the dictatorial nations that Iraq is not safe for infidels because God has empowered the mujahidin," it said.

Al-Qaida in Iraq has waged a campaign of attacks on Iraqi and US forces in Iraq.