BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Security forces in Baghdad were hunting for three U.S. citizens who Iraqi lawmakers said on Monday had been kidnapped, which, if confirmed, would make them the first Americans abducted in the country since U.S. troops withdrew in 2011.
Unknown gunmen seized the trio from a private apartment on Friday in the capital’s southeastern Dora district, said Mohammed al-Karbouli, who sits on parliament’s security and defense panel. It was not immediately clear if their motives were political or criminal.
Iskandar Witwit, deputy head of the same panel, gave a similar account citing senior security officials who said the civilians had been taken from the district’s Sihha residential complex. Two of the three also had Iraqi citizenship, he said.
Iranian-backed Shi‘ite Muslim militia fighters, seen as a bulwark in the fight against Islamic State militants, have a heavy presence in that part of the predominately Sunni district.
The three men work for a small company that is doing maintenance work for the information technology division of General Dynamics Corp, under a larger contract with the U.S. Army, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The names of two of the men, which were first published by Fox News and other media outlets, are Wael al-Mahdawy (whose name is also spelled, Wael al-Mahdawi) and Amro Mohammed, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The spelling of the first man’s name was not consistent in information provided by authorities, said the source.
The name of the third man was not immediately available.
Mark Meudt, a spokesman for General Dynamics, referred all queries to the U.S. State Department.
The State Department on Sunday had it was working with Iraqi authorities to locate Americans reported missing, without confirming they had been kidnapped.
A State Department spokeswoman on Monday declined to provide any further comment, citing “privacy considerations.”
Dora was a bastion of the insurgency against the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and the site of intense sectarian bloodletting that peaked around 2006-07. Federal police now run most checkpoints there.
The capital of Iraq, OPEC’s second biggest oil exporter, has seen a proliferation in recent years of well-armed criminal gangs that carry out contract killings, kidnappings and extortion.
Iraqi police set up extra checkpoints in Dora on Monday and sent out helicopter search parties. Two Iraqi army helicopters were seen hovering over the district, while police vehicles patrolled the streets, residents said.
The Iraqi government has struggled to rein in the Shi‘ite militias, many of which fought the U.S. military following the 2003 invasion and have previously been accused of killing and abducting American nationals.
Iraq has seen a series of abductions of foreign nationals in recent months. At least 26 Qatari hunters kidnapped last month in the southern desert by unknown militants have not yet been found.
In September, 18 Turks taken in Baghdad by an armed group that used a Shi‘ite Muslim slogan were released following several weeks in detention.
The radical Sunni militants of Islamic State have maintained a limited presence in Baghdad, regularly claiming bomb attacks against Shi‘ite neighborhoods.
Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Mary Milliken