State Department officials announced they were working Sunday to locate three Americans, who were kidnapped by a militant group in Baghdad on Sunday. Dubai-based news service Al Arabiya reported that three Americans had been kidnapped by “militias” in the Iraqi capital. The Arab news agency cited their own sources. ISIS appeared to claim responsibility for the attack, according to a statement the terrorist group published online, according to Laith Alkhouri of Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm and NBC News consultant. The Americans went missing two days ago, said a senior security official in Baghdad, CNN reports. Unconfirmed reports from Iraqi security circles said three Americans and an Iraqi translator were seized on the southern side of Baghdad.
The reported kidnapping comes at a time of increased tensions between the predominantly Shia militias of southern Iraq and US-backed Saudi Arabia, following the latter’s execution of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Last Monday, at least 18 people were killed and 40 others were injured when insurgents attacked a shopping mall in Baghdad. According to The Washington Post, a spokesman for Baghdad’s Joint Operations Command said that the missing persons were Iraqis with US citizenship. The US is working with Iraqi authorities to find them, a State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Sunday.
We are aware of reports that American citizens are missing in Iraq. The safety and security of American citizens overseas is our highest priority. We are working with the full cooperation of the Iraqi authorities to locate and recover the individuals. Due to privacy considerations, I have nothing further.”
The Islamic State group claimed a number of attacks in Baghdad and neighboring Diyala province last week that killed more than 50 people, including a high profile attack on a mall in the Iraqi capital. The string of IS attacks on civilian targets within areas of Iraqi government control follow battlefield losses, most recently in western Iraq. Last month, Iraqi troops pushed IS fighters out of the center of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province in Iraq’s Sunni heartland.
In acts of apparent reprisal, armed gangs residents identified as Shiite militias, attacked Sunni owned businesses and mosques in Diyala province just north of Baghdad. After IS was pushed out of the province, security there was left almost entirely in the hands of Shiite militias. Responding to a call to arms from Shiite clerics in Iraq after the Islamic State group swept across the country’s northern and western provinces in the summer of 2014, Shiite militias in Iraq now wield more power than the country’s regular security forces and military. Before US forces pulled out of Iraq in 2011, a number of Western citizens were kidnapped and killed by radical Shia groups as well as Sunni militants, but none has been abducted since then.