Gunmen in Iraq dressed as police commandos have kidnapped as many as 100 people during a lightning raid on a Baghdad research institute. Authorities say at least three people were later released. It is believed to be the largest mass abduction since the start of the conflict.
In a well-organized raid, police and witnesses say about 80 gunmen wearing the uniforms of Iraqi police commandos closed off the streets surrounding the Scientific Research Directorate of the Ministry of Education in the central Karradah district.
Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khallaf, told The Associated Press the police chief of the Karradah neighborhood where the kidnappings occurred has been placed under investigation along with some of his officers.
The head of the parliament's education committee told legislators that the kidnappers had a list of names of those to be taken away.
Education committee chairman Alaa Makki told legislators that the kidnappers claimed they were on a mission from the government's anti-corruption body.
In contrast to the usually sectarian nature of Iraqi violence, Makki said the kidnappers did not discriminate between Sunni or Shiite Muslims, taking every man including institute officials, employees, visitors and even the building's cleaning staff.
A police spokesman said the entire operation took only about 20 minutes.
One witness, a female professor who was visiting the ministry when the raid occurred, said the gunmen forced men and women into separate rooms, handcuffed the men, and then took them away in about six pickup trucks. She added that some of the gunmen wore face masks.
Iraq's Minister of Higher Education Abed Dhiab al-Ujaili immediately suspended classes at Baghdad universities until the government provides them with adequate security.
The minister told parliament that he had no other option until authorities find out what happened. He said he is not ready to lose any more professors.
At least 155 educators have been killed since the war began in 2003. Most recently, a university dean and a prominent Sunni Arab geology professor were murdered.