Ahmed al-Hijiya Head of Iraq’s Olympic Committee Kidnapped

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Iraqui Soldier Outside Cultural Center
Iraqi soldiers stand outside a cultural center in Baghdad

By Ryan Lenz, Ap ~ BAGHDAD, Iraq (July 15) – Gunmen kidnapped the head of Iraq’s Olympic committee and more than a dozen employees Saturday after storming a meeting of sports officials just days after the coach of Iraq’s national wrestling team was killed.

The gunmen, wearing camouflaged Iraqi police uniforms, used at least ten vehicles for the kidnapping, police officials said. After entering the room where a meeting was taking place, gunmen demanded everyone stand and face the wall.

The building guards were not taken, but the kidnappers blindfolded and handcuffed all people in the room, police said.

Police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said Ahmed al-Hijiya, president of the Olympic committee, was taken around 1:30 p.m. local time along with other employees as they attended a conference in Karradah, a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad.

Others seized included the deputy head of the Olympic committee, Ammar Jabbar al-Saadi; the chairman of the Taekwondo Federation, Jamal Abdul-Karim; and the chief of the Boxing Federation Union, Bashar Mustafa, police added.

The International Olympic Committee demanded their immediate release.

“The IOC was informed today that the president and secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Iraq as well as the presidents of the Iraqi Boxing and Taekwondo federations have been kidnapped in Baghdad,” it said in a statement.

“The IOC strongly condems these acts and calls for the immediate release of the hostages. The IOC is in contact with the National Olympic Committee of Iraq and is monitoring the situation closely. ”

It’s unclear how many people were kidnapped in all, but several estimates all put the number of people taken around dozens.

Security guards outside the meeting did not interfere because they thought the kidnappers were legitimate law enforcement, police said. But two guards were killed, one while trying to flee the building; the other was shot dead and his body left on a street in Karradah.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told reporters that the men were kidnapped by “gangs” and not security forces.

The kidnappings of Iraq’s Olympic officials came a day after Iraq’s national wrestling team pulled out of a tournament in the United Arab Emirates when its coach was killed in Baghdad.

The Sunni coach, Mohammed Karim Abid Sahib, was seized on Thursday with one of his wrestlers as they left the sports center to buy some sweets in the northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah, where the team was preparing for the tournament.

He was shot to death while trying to escape; the other wrestler got away, according to police and wrestling officials.

Fifteen members of a taekwondo team were kidnapped in western Iraq on May 17 while driving to a training camp in neighboring Jordan.

Maj. Gen. Adnan Thabet, commander of the ministry’s special forces told The Associated Press that al-Hijiya and others were kidnapped near Baghdad’s central Andalus Square. Asked about the kidnapping, Thabet said “There are some sides that don’t want him to head the committee.”

By Ryan Lenz, Ap