/ 6 April 2008

Gunmen kidnap 42 students in Iraq

Gunmen kidnapped 42 university students near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday, police said, in one of the biggest mass abductions in the country in many months.

”Gunmen stopped two buses in a village south of Mosul,” said Khalid Abdul-Sattar, police spokesperson for Nineveh province.

”One of the buses managed to flee. The second bus was stopped and 42 male students were seized.”

No group claimed responsibility but suspicion will fall on Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda, which has regrouped in northern provinces after being pushed out of western Anbar province and Baghdad following a series of military offensives.

The group was, however, freed hours after being kidnapped, an Iraqi security spokesperson said.

The United States military says Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, is al-Qaeda’s last major urban stronghold in the country.

In Baghdad, five people were killed and 17 wounded in clashes between US soldiers and gunmen in a Shi’ite stronghold on Sunday, Iraqi police said.

The US military said a helicopter air strike had killed nine ”criminals” in the Sadr City slum although it was not aware of any gun battles there. It gave no more details.

Police said the operation started in the early hours of Sunday and some fighting reached the outskirts of densely populated Sadr City, home to 2twomillion people in east Baghdad.

Sadr City is the stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia of anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Security forces fought gun battles with the Mehdi Army in Sadr City late last month, part of clashes that killed hundreds of people in the capital and across southern Iraq.

No details were available on those killed on Sunday and it was unclear if the police toll included casualties from the air strike. Police said women and children were among the wounded. — Reuters