U.S. and local Iraqi authorities are searching for three American citizens who were reportedly kidnapped in Baghdad, officials from the two countries said on Sunday.
The Associated Press reported that Iraqi security forces fanned out across the Baghdad neighborhood on Monday morning, closing streets and conducting house-to-house searches.
An Iraqi government intelligence official said that the Americans were kidnapped from their interpreter’s home in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora. The kidnapping occurred, the official said, after the Americans were invited into the home of their interpreter. The individuals were then taken to Sadr city, the official said, “after (the kidnapping) all communications and contact stopped in Sadr city.”
The three Americans were kidnapped from a “suspicious apartment” in Baghdad, a spokesman for the security command responsible for the capital said on Monday.
“Three people carrying American nationality were kidnapped while they were in Dura... inside a suspicious apartment,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“Security forces have begun searching for them,” the spokesman said.
A police colonel said on condition of anonymity that an Iraqi translator took the Americans for “drinking and women” at his apartment in the Dura area.
Militiamen “attacked the place”, the colonel said, adding that “they were kidnapped from inside the apartment, not from the street.”
There were no immediate claims of responsibility. Kidnappings in Iraq have been carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, Shiite militias and criminal gangs often demanding ransom payments or seeking to resolve workplace disputes.
Kidnappings are a major problem in Baghdad and other parts of the country and most frequently target Iraqis, but Qatari and Turkish citizens have also been seized in recent months.
“We are aware of reports that American citizens are missing in Iraq,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
“We are working with the full cooperation of the Iraqi authorities to locate and recover the individuals,” Kirby added, without providing details about their number or the circumstances of their disappearance.
The officer said that according to information he had received, the kidnappers were militiamen wearing military uniforms.
“We don’t know what their work is,” the colonel said of the kidnapped Americans.
Iraq turned to paramilitary forces dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias to help combat ISIS, which overran large parts of the country in 2014.
These groups, which fall under an umbrella organization known as the Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization units, have played a key role in the fight against the extremists.
But they have also been accused of abuses including summary executions, kidnappings and destruction of property.
The U.S. is leading a coalition of countries that have bombed thousands of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria and which are providing training to Baghdad’s forces.SHOW MORE