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Iraq policemen held over kidnap

BBC | November 14, 2006

Five senior police officers have been arrested in connection with the seizure of scores of staff and visitors from a government building in Baghdad.
Among those held was the police chief of the Karrada district, site of the higher education ministry building.

The gunmen wore military-style uniforms like those issued to Iraqi police.

About 20 of the abductees were released on Tuesday evening, while Iraqi officials suggested some 40 to 50 hostages remained in captivity.

However, figures varied substantially. Initial estimates suggested that more than 100 people had been seized, but that was later revised down.

A spokesman at the education ministry said about 70 people worked in the building, but there was no way of knowing who was in the building at the time.

The attackers stormed the education ministry's research department, locked women in a room and took the men away.

It was the latest attack to target Iraq's academics, who are increasingly fleeing the country in the face of the violence.

Correspondents say many Iraqis believe mass kidnappings like this latest incident are committed by members of the Shia Muslim-dominated security forces, or take place with their collusion.

Such kidnappings are often for ransom, but many victims are subsequently found dead.

Higher Education Minister Abd Dhiab ordered all Baghdad's universities to close until the security situation improved.

In other developments:

A blast at Baghdad's Shurja market killed 10 people and wounded 25, police said

An overnight US raid killed six people in mainly-Shia east Baghdad, sparking angry anti-US protests

Thirty died in a US raid on the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi, Iraqi officials said

Police found 11 bodies with gunshot wounds in Mosul, while 10 kidnap victims were found shot dead in Baquba
Identities checked

The head of the parliamentary education committee, Alaa Makki, interrupted a televised parliamentary session with the news of the mass abduction.

He urged the prime minister and interior and defence ministers to respond rapidly to what he called a "national catastrophe".

Mr Makki said the abductees had been both Shias and Sunnis, and had been seized by gunmen claiming to be working for the government's anti-corruption body.

However, a civil servant who said he was returning to the building at the time of the abduction described gunmen lining up the male staff in the car park and checking their identity cards.

"They picked only the Sunni employees. They even took the man who was just delivering tea," he told Reuters news agency

"They gathered them all in the pick-ups. At the same time, I saw two police patrols watching, doing nothing," he said.

The gunmen reportedly closed off roads around the institute and took away their captives in handcuffs.

The institute is responsible for awarding grants to Iraqi academics wishing to study abroad.

Academic institutions have been particularly badly hit in the violence that has engulfed Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, with dozens of professors killed and hundreds leaving the country because of fears for their safety.

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