News & Politics

3 Americans Abducted From Area of Baghdad Often Controlled By Iranian Militia

Members of Peace Brigades, a Shiite militia group loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr headed for Samarra, where Iraqi troops backed by Shiite fighters and are fighting extremists, sit with their weapons in a vehicle as they leave Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

Three American contractors were abducted over the weekend from an apartment described as a “brothel” in an area of Baghdad known to be controlled by Iranian militia. They were then reportedly taken to Sadr City, a densely populated Shiite city where, an Iraqi intelligence official told the Associated Press, “all communication ceased.”

“Gunmen in military uniforms came in five or six SUVs, they entered the building and then left almost immediately,” said Mohammad Jabar, 35, who runs a shop down the street from the three-story apartment building where the Americans had been invited by their Iraqi interpreter.

According to CNN, “two of the contractors are dual Iraqi-American citizens and … the third is an American national.”

Gunmen grabbed the men at an apartment in Baghdad’s southeastern Dora neighborhood late Friday afternoon, the source said.

A security operation was underway in the al-Saha part of the Dora neighborhood, an Iraqi intelligence official with Baghdad operations command told CNN on Monday.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.  ISIS, Shiite militias and criminal gangs have been known to kidnap foreigners and demand ransom payments.

“We are working with the full cooperation of the Iraqi authorities to locate and recover the individuals,” spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh reported that the area southeast of Baghdad is often controlled by Shia militia close to Iran.

Walsh said it was possible that the men “could fall into the hands of pro-Iranian militia.”

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 Fox News has identified the kidnapped Americans, one of whom is a woman.

A police official identified the woman as Iraqi-American Russel Furat. An Iraqi military official told the newspaper the two men kidnapped are Iraqi-American Wael al-Mahdawy and Egyptian-American Amro Mohammed.

An Iraqi intelligence official told the Associated Press that the Americans were invited into the apartment in the neighborhood of Dora. After they were abducted, they were taken to Sadr City, at which point the official said, “all communications and contact stopped.” A spokesman for Baghdad’s Joint Operations Command told The Washington Post that the three citizens were Iraqis who had acquired U.S. citizenship. A Baghdad police official said they worked as contractors at Baghdad International Airport, but did not say which country employed them.

The AFP reported that the Americans were kidnapped from a “suspicious apartment” in Baghdad:

 A police colonel said on condition of anonymity that an Iraqi translator took the Americans for “drinking and women” at an 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.”

They were apparently taken to another area, as Dura was searched and they were not found, the officer said.

He said that the translator was also kidnapped.

This comes in the wake of the U.S. agreement to release seven Iranian prisoners in exchange for the release of four American prisoners. Republican presidential candidates have blasted the Obama administration over the deal because they say such exchanges only encourage more kidnappings.

The swap came as the nuclear deal struck this summer between Iran and six world powers took effect Saturday evening, ending economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic tied to its nuclear pursuits. “The result of this, every bad actor on earth has been told go capture an American,” Mr. Cruz said in the interview broadcast Sunday. His remarks were echoed by fellow Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio in an interview with CBS News. “Now nations and enemies of America around the globe know that there’s a price for Americans: if you take an American hostage, Barack Obama will cut a deal with you,” the Florida senator said. Both Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz compared the case to that of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl,who was released in late May 2014 as part of a prisoner swap for five detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Mr. Bergdahl now faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

GOP front-runner Donald Trump also criticized the prisoner swap:

“Now I have to see what the deal is for the four people, because someone said they were getting seven back. So essentially, they get 150 billion plus seven, and we get four. Doesn’t sound too good,” he said. “I am happy they are coming back, but it is a disgrace they have been there this long, a total disgrace.”