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Early Successes May Embolden Kidnappers --> 25 July 2004 -- Two Pakistanis working for a Kuwaiti company in Iraq have been missing since their truck came under attack on 23 July, and the Pakistani Foreign Ministry says that they may have been abducted.

It would be the second such incident involving Pakistanis this year and is one in a series of abductions by militants in Iraq. Concerns are growing that militants are becoming emboldened by early successes in winning concessions in return for sparing the lives of hostages.

The Pakistanis, a driver and an engineer, were working in Baghdad for a Kuwaiti company, just two of many of their countrymen employed in Iraq.

Relatives said that they have not been seen or heard from since the attack on their truck.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said that no group so far has contacted Pakistani officials nor announced the capture. But the incident follows a number of hostage-taking incidents evidently aimed at forcing foreign countries and employers to leave Iraq.

Highly publicized successes appear to have emboldened militants in the use of the tactic.

A previously unknown group calling itself Tawhid Islamic Group and claiming to be Al-Qaeda's European branch has posted on an Internet website threats to mount terror attacks on Australia and Italy unless they withdraw their troops from Iraq. The group says the two countries should follow the examples of Spain and the Philippines, which already have removed their soldiers.

Although the authenticity of the group and its message has not been established, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said today in Melbourne that his country takes the threat seriously.

"I wasn't aware of [the organization's] existence myself until the course of the last week," Downer said. "ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organization] are looking into the credibility of the organization, but we take all threats seriously."

Downer said that Australia will not change its policies in response, however.

"Australia sends a message out to the world. That is we won't bow to threats," Downer said. "In the end, if we allow these sorts of threats to determine our foreign policy then what we'll do is empower the terrorists. Of course, if we empower the terrorists, then the terrorists will become increasingly virulent and increasingly successful."

The foreign minister said that the behavior of Spain and the Philippines in acceding to the terrorists' demands had encouraged them in their tactics.

"There's no doubt that the decision by the Spanish to withdraw after the Madrid bombings and the withdrawal by the Philippines recently as a result of the kidnapping and the threatened execution of the Philippines national has given greater strength to the terrorists," Downer said.

He said that the international community must not be pressured into giving up its support for Iraq and Iraqis.

"You won't defeat terrorists by acceding to the demands of terrorists," Downer said. "The last thing we want is the international community, to just -- whatever people thought about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as a first step -- the last thing we want now is the international community just to abandon the Iraqi interim government and the Iraqi people."

On 23 July, assailants captured Muhammad Mamdouh Qutb, the third-ranked diplomat at Egypt's mission in Baghdad. Egypt has suggested that it might be willing to assistant with security in Iraq.

Iraq interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was in Damascus, Syria, on 24 July on a regional tour to seek support from Mideast countries for his government. Like the Australian foreign Minister, he called on Egypt and the world to resist pressure from terrorists.

"The only way to deal with terrorists is to bring them to justice and to close ranks, and we hope that Egypt and the Egyptian government would act accordingly," Allawi said.

Abductions and hostage taking are only part of the tactics adopted by the militants opposing the U.S.-led coalition and the interim government in Iraq. They also are engaged in ambushes, bombing, sabotage of oil installations and direct confrontations with foreign troops.

(wire reports)