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Putin orders diplomats' killers 'destroyed'

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russian agents to hunt down and "destroy" the killers of the four Russian diplomats taken hostage in Iraq early this month, Interfax news agency reported.

Interfax said Putin issued the directive at a meeting in Moscow with visiting Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia.

"The president ordered the special forces to take all necessary measures to find and destroy the criminals who killed Russian diplomats in Iraq," the Kremlin told Interfax.

"Russia will be grateful to all its friends for any information on the criminals who killed the Russians in Iraq," Putin said, according to the press service of the Kremlin.

A group linked to al-Qaeda said it has killed four Russian diplomats it had held hostage, according to a statement on a Web site. The group -- the Mujahedeen Shura Council -- said it had beheaded three of them men and shot one to death.

A video also posted on the Web site appeared to show one of the men being beheaded, another man already beheaded and one of them while he is being shot in the head. The fourth man did not appear in the video.

The same group posted a statement last Monday demanding Moscow withdraw its troops from Chechnya and "release all our brothers and sisters" from prison within 48 hours.

In the statement last week, the group added, "God enabled the lions of unification to capture four Russian diplomats in Iraq and kill a fifth," alluding to an attack June 3, when a car belonging to the Russian Embassy in Iraq came under fire.

Embassy official Vitaly Titov was killed in the attack, and diplomats Fyodor Zaitsev, Rinat Agliuglin, Anatoly Smirnov and Oleg Fedoseyev were kidnapped.

Their claims could not be verified, but the Web site has been used by insurgent groups in the past to post messages.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday issued a statement of condemnation, calling the act "criminal" and "cowardly" -- aimed at hurting Iraq's relations with Russia.

"This atrocious act of terrorism which is in violation of all concepts of religion, humanity and honor mirrors how dangerous terrorism encountered by Iraq in particular and by the whole world in general is, which makes imperative that efforts of the international community be mobilized to uproot this cancer which has killed thousands of innocent people."

The ministry said the act won't "affect consolidation of bilateral relations between Iraq and the Russian Federation and their peoples."

The ministry also said "it hopes that the competent security authorities would make all possible efforts to arrest the perpetrators of this hideous crime and to bring them to justice to receive the penalty they deserve."

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