Iraqi security forces fanned out across the Baghdad neighborhood Monday morning where three Americans were reportedly kidnapped over the weekend, closing streets and conducting house-to-house searches.
An Iraqi government intelligence official told The Associated Press the Americans were kidnapped by Shiite militia 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 official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to brief the press.
A resident of the apartment building where the Americans were reportedly seized said that they were taken from a second-story apartment that he described as well-known as a brothel. A police major general also said the apartment was a brothel, in a building of eight residents, he said. The resident said the apartment is subject to frequent raids by Asa’ib ah al-Haq, although typically the men found inside are simply told to leave. He said he witnessed part of the raid, but that it happened late at night and was over very quickly.
A local policeman in Dora said the individuals were taken from their car on Saturday along a highway in southwest Dora while driving to Baghdad International Airport. The Washington Post quoted an unnamed police official who said the three worked as contractors at the airport. The two differing accounts of the events could not immediately be reconciled. The policeman spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to brief the press.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed Sunday that "several" Americans have gone missing in Iraq, after local media reported that three Americans had been kidnapped in the Iraqi capital.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Scott Bolz said, "We are working in full cooperation with Iraqi authorities to locate the missing Americans."
Bolz did not identify the missing Americans or say what they were doing in Iraq.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said that "due to privacy considerations" he had nothing further to add about the missing Americans. "The safety and security of Americans abroad is our highest priority," Kirby said.
Col. Steve Warren, the Baghdad based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group, confirmed that the individuals were civilians.
The comments by U.S. officials came after the Arab news channel, al-Arabiya, citing its own sources, reported that three Americans had been kidnapped by militias in Baghdad.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility. Kidnappings in Iraq have been carried out by the Islamic State group, Shiite militias and criminal gangs often demanding ransom payments or seeking to resolve workplace disputes.
Following the IS takeover of Iraq's second largest city Mosul and large swaths of territory in the country's north and west, Iraq has witnessed a deterioration in security as government forces were sent to front lines and Shiite militias were empowered to aid in the fight following the collapse of the Iraqi military.
Last month a Qatari hunting party was kidnapped in Iraq's south by unidentified gunmen and their whereabouts are still unknown. In September 18 Turkish workers were kidnapped from their construction site in Baghdad's Sadr city by masked men in military uniforms. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi blamed organized crime for the kidnapping. The workers were released later that month.
Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report.