Gunmen abducted two Americans and a Briton on Thursday in a brazen attack on a house in an upmarket Baghdad neighbourhood where many embassies and foreign companies are based, the Interior Ministry and witnesses said. It was the latest in a wave of kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq.
The three were employed by Gulf Services Company, a Middle East-based construction firm, and were seized from a two-storey house surrounded by a wall in the al-Mansour neighbourhood, said Colonel Adnan Abdel-Rahman, a ministry official.
A United States embassy spokesperson speaking on condition of anonymity could not immediately confirm the report but said officials were taking the reports very seriously. A British diplomat in Baghdad was also unable to confirm any details.
US troops fanned out across the suburb to investigate what happened and question witnesses.
Neighbours said they heard two vehicles drive up to the house around dawn and later noticed that the normally closed sliding iron gate was open, so they called the police. They said they didn’t know who was living there.
A police official who asked not to be named said a car was missing from the house where the hostages were believed to have been kidnapped. He said the three were apparently in the garden when the attack took place and that there was no sign of any fighting.
It was not immediately clear whether the three worked as security guards or were involved in reconstruction projects.
A neighbour who would only give his name as Majid (23) said he left his house at about 6am amid a power outage to go turn on a generator.
“I noticed unusual movement in the garage. I heard voices that sounded like someone was trying to drag somebody else,” he said.
“I was frightened and left the area but when I came back to the foreigners’ house I saw that the outer gate was open and the foreigners’ car had gone.”
“There was no gunfight,” added another neighbour, Suha Mouayad.
Several foreign embassies, contracting and security companies and many prominent Iraqi politicians are based in the al-Mansour neighbourhood, which is normally teeming with security guards.
Insurgents have kidnapped more than 100 foreigners in a bid to destabilise the interim authorities and drive coalition forces from the country. Many have been executed.
At least five Westerners are currently being held hostage in Iraq.
Two Italian women, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both 29, were abducted on September 7 by armed men from their offices in central Baghdad. They were working on school and water projects for the aid group “A Bridge To…”. There is no word on their fate.
Two French reporters, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, were kidnapped last month by a militant group that demanded France rescind a ban on the wearing of headscarves in public schools.
Paris refused and the law has already gone into effect. An Iraqi-American, Aban Elias (41) has been held since May 3 by group calling itself the Islamic Rage Brigade.
Also Thursday, a US Humvee hit a roadside bomb south of the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, the military said in a statement.
There was no immediate word on casualties.
Witnesses said the vehicle was ablaze on a main road near the city and that troops had sealed off the area.
Thursday’s kidnapping of the three men came a day after villagers found three decapitated bodies in the town of Dijiel 40km north of Baghdad.
The bodies were found on Wednesday in nylon bags, the heads in bags alongside them, said Colonel Adnan Abdul-Rahman of the Interior Ministry. They were all men with tattoos, including one with the letter ‘H’ on his arm, but no documents were found on them, he said.
A US military official said the bodies appeared to be Iraqis and had their hands tied behind their backs.
While insurgents have often beheaded foreign hostages in their fight against the government and coalition forces, it is not a tactic usually used against Iraqis, who are more often abducted for money.
Residents from a nearby village found the bodies shortly after dawn and notified the Iraqi national guard, said Iraqi Lieutenant Ahmad Farouk.
An Associated Press photographer saw the three corpses lined up with their heads by their sides on the floor at the guard compound before US troops collected them and handed them over to police.
Two wore jeans and shirts and the third wore sweat pants and a T-shirt. All appeared young.
Also on Wednesday, militants released a Turkish man identified as Aytulla Gezmen, an Arabic language translator who was taken hostage in late July, according to a videotape obtained by Associated Press Television News. The Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed he had been freed.
A Jordanian transport company said on Wednesday it had ceased to operate in Iraq in the hope of winning the release of one of its drivers, Turki Simer Khalifeh al-Breizat, kidnapped by a separate militant group. The kidnappers gave the company 48 hours on Tuesday to pull out.
The developments follow a surge in violence that has killed more than 200 people in the past four days in a brazen and coordinated campaign focused increasingly on the capital — the centre of authority for Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his American allies.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the British Broadcasting Corporation he feared continued insecurity in Iraq would block planned Iraqi elections in January.
He also reiterated his judgment that the American-led attack on Iraq, conducted without UN approval, was in contravention of the UN charter.
“From our point of view and the [UN] charter point of view it was illegal,” Annan said in the BBC interview. – Sapa-AP