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Up to 150 people kidnapped from Baghdad research institute in largest mass kidnapping since the start of the U.S. occupation

Associated Press

November 14, 2006

Gunmen dressed as police commandos kidnapped up to 150 staff and visitors in a lightning raid on a Baghdad research institute Tuesday, the largest mass abduction since the start of the U.S. occupation.

Iraq's higher education minister immediately ordered all universities closed until security improvements are made, saying he was "not ready to see more professors get killed.

"I have only one choice which is to suspend classes at universities. We have no other choice," Abed Theyab said in an address to parliament. Theyab said he had repeatedly petitioned for more university security from the ministries of defense and interior, who command the police, but had received none.

Alaa Makki, head of the parliament's education committee, interrupted the body's session Tuesday morning to say that between 100 and 150 people, both Shiites and Sunnis, had been abducted in the 9:30 a.m. (0630 GMT) raid.

He urged the prime minister and ministers of interior and defense to respond rapidly, calling the abductions a "national catastrophe."

The kidnapping is the largest of any group since about 50 people taken from the offices of a private security company in March. Their fate remains unknown.

"It was quick operation. It took about 10 to 15 minutes," Theyab said. "It was a four-story building and the gunmen went to the four stories." He said the gunmen had at least 20 vehicles, but possibly many more.

Makki said the gunmen had a list of names of those to be taken and claimed to be on a mission from the government's anti-corruption body to check on security ahead of a planned visit by the U.S. ambassador. Those kidnapped included the institute's deputy general directors, employees, and visitors, he said.

Police and eyewitnesses said the gunmen, who numbered about 80, had closed off streets surrounding the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Scholarships and Cultural Relations Directorate in the downtown Karradah district. The institute is responsible for granting scholarships to Iraqi professors and students wishing to study abroad.

The facility appeared to be an easy target for the kidnappers, whose motives remain unknown. Police spokesman Maj. Mahir Hamad said four guards put up no resistance and were unharmed.

Eyewitnesses including a female professor visiting at the time of the kidnappings said the gunmen forced men and women into separate rooms, handcuffed the men, and loaded them aboard about pickup trucks. She said the gunmen, some of them masked, wore blue camouflage uniforms of the type worn by police commandos.

Shiite militias and other illegal groups are known to wear stolen or fake police and army uniforms.

The abductions come amid a series of killings and other attacks on Iraqi academics that are robbing Iraq of its brain trust and prompting thousands of professors and researchers to flee to neighboring countries to escape the country's boiling lawlessness and sectarian hatred.

Recent weeks have seen a university dean and prominent Sunni geologist murdered, bringing the death toll among educators to at least 155 since the war began. The academics apparently were singled out for their relatively high public stature, vulnerability and known views on controversial issues in a climate of deepening Islamic fundamentalism.

Ali al-Adib, a Shiite lawmaker, said there was little question Tuesday's incident was a mass kidnapping and demanded that U.S. troops held responsible for the security lapse.

"The detention of 150 people from a government institution without informing the higher education minister ... means this is an abduction operation," al-Adib said.

"There is a political goal behind this grave action," he said.

A spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq said American troops were ready to help in the hunt for the kidnappers.

"If the reports are true, than this is a terrible crime and we will support all efforts by the Iraqi government to bring these criminals to justice," Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said.

The abductions came just hours after a U.S. assault on the northwest Baghdad Shiite district of Shula that drew strong condemnation from al-Adib and other Shiite members of parliament. Shula is a stronghold of radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, sponsor of one of Iraq's most powerful and feared militias, the Mahdi Army.

It also came a day after Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, confronted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over how Iraqi forces would halt the raging violence.


:: Article nr. 28253 sent on 14-nov-2006 14:15 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=28253

Link: www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/11/14/africa/ME_GEN_Iraq_Mass_Kidnapping.php



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