A previously unknown Palestinian group on Friday claimed responsibility for the abduction of an Egyptian diplomat in the Gaza Strip, and demanded the release of Palestinian criminals held in Egyptian jails.
A group calling itself the Al Ahrar Brigades, whose name means "the liberated people" in Arabic, warned that the Egyptian government would have to "shoulder the unfortunate consequences" if the prisoners were not released within 48 hours. It did not elaborate.
The authenticity of the statement, first obtained by the Al-Jazeera satellite channel in Gaza City, could not be verified. Major militias in Gaza, including those who have carried out other kidnappings in recent months, have condemned Thursday's abduction.
The diplomat, Egypt's military attache to the Palestinian Authority, was kidnapped from his car near the Egyptian mission in Gaza City on Thursday after two masked gunmen shot out the tires of his car.
Egypt identified him as Hussam Almousaly. The diplomat's whereabouts remained unknown Friday.
The abduction, carried out in broad daylight, underscored the lawlessness plaguing Gaza in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from the area last September.
Egypt, a key ally of the Palestinians, has been trying to broker the formation of a new Palestinian government following Hamas' victory in legislative elections last month.
The Egyptian was the first diplomat nabbed amid a recent spate of kidnappings, and the abduction was the most serious attack on diplomats in the Palestinian areas since three American security guards were killed when a US diplomatic convoy was hit by a bomb in October 2003.
Egypt is holding "dozens" of Palestinians in its jails, the statement said. Most of those detained face charges of crossing the border illegally - many of them in the chaotic aftermath of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza - or of criminal activity in Egypt. The prisoners face "humiliating conditions and tough torture" in the prisons, the group said.
Egypt did not immediately respond to the statement.