Check out this: another tragic story coming out of Iraq concerning the 18 civilian Turkish workers and their families. It also cements the importance of having adequate security to protect civilian contractors like these Turkish workers. The scariest thing is that the kidnappers wore military uniforms. Hard to tell who the “bad guys” are over there…
Masked gunmen in pickup trucks kidnapped a group of workers from Turkey on the outskirts of Baghdad on Wednesday, triggering the second crisis involving Turkish citizens in Iraq in the past year.
Dressed in military uniforms, the assailants stormed a stadium under construction in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City and seized 18 personnel belonging to Turkish conglomerate Nurol Holding, the arena’s builder, the company said.
No one claimed responsibility for the kidnapping or contacted Ankara-based Nurol with any demands, Chief Executive Officer Ugur Dogan said, adding that Nurol had recently reduced its personnel at the stadium to a minimum amid deteriorating security.
The identities of the gunmen weren’t immediately known, Iraqi and Turkish officials said.
“We are in very close contact with Iraqi authorities,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said. “Officials in Iraq don’t yet have information on how the incident occurred and who carried it out.”
The assault comes as Turkey increases its involvement in a U.S.-led international coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, highlighting the risks of Ankara’s more pronounced role in the conflict.
The gunmen drove into the Al Hababiya Olympic Stadium in a convoy of 20 pickup trucks, rounded up Iraqi security guards, and stormed trailers where the Turkish workers were sleeping, an Iraqi security official said. Those taken include 14 construction workers, three engineers and one accountant, said Tanju Bilgic, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman. The Iraqi guards were later released.
The site is guarded around the clock and protected by a 3-meter concrete wall. Mr. Dogan, the Nurol CEO, said he didn’t know how the militants had managed to breach security, and that they had taken recordings from the suite’s security cameras in an effort to cover their trail.
Iraqi officials said it was unlikely Wednesday’s attack was the work of Islamic State, despite previous assaults by the group on Turkish nationals and recent calls by its leaders for militants to wage jihad against Turkey. Mr. Dogan said he too doubted an Islamic State connection, citing the fact that the area is a Shiite stronghold and reports from locals that the kidnappers had driven off toward Shiite-dominated areas.
Kidnappings for ransom and sectarian violence are common in the Iraqi capital, but officials said the scope and organization of the assault on the stadium suggested a targeted operation.
Turkey walks a fine line in the fight against the Sunni Muslim extremists, whose presence along its porous and restive southern borders with Iraq and Syria has destabilized the country, stoking domestic violence and threatening national security.
Though Ankara is part of the U.S.-led coalition bombing the group, the Iraqi Shiite militias who are also fighting to defeat the militants say Turkey’s lack of action against Islamic State in its nascent stages is partly to blame for its rise to power.
The stadium workers kidnapped on Wednesday were never allowed off-site, a policeman said, reflecting the threats against Turkish nationals in Iraq.
All remaining Iraqi personnel were being questioned by intelligence officers, he added.
Sadr City is a Shiite neighborhood dominated by anti-Islamic State fighters and supporters, and a frequent target of the group’s car bombs. In August, dozens of shoppers were killed at a large outdoor market.
“Security risks have been there since the beginning, but we never thought they would escalate to this,” said Mr. Dogan. “We had never been directly targeted before, we don’t know the reason for this.”
In June 2014, Islamic State stormed the Turkish consulate in Mosul as it seized control of the city, Iraq’s second-largest, taking 49 diplomats, staff, and their families hostage for more than three months. Ankara secured their release in September 2014, ending a hostage crisis that Turkish officials said held their government back from taking greater action against the extremists.
Facing increasing pressure from foreign governments, Turkey has escalated its activity against the militants. A July 20 suicide bombing near the Syrian border—which Ankara blamed on Islamic State—killed 34 Turkish civilians and triggered military action against the group.
Earlier this year, Turkey launched a crackdown on Islamic State networks in the country, and bolstered efforts to seal its 565-mile-long border against militants using Turkey as a thoroughfare to Syria.
In July, it opened its air bases to coalition jets carrying out the anti-Islamic State bombing campaign, and launched its first airstrikes on the group in Syria.
Turkish soldiers have trained 2,000 Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting Islamic State in Iraq. They also run a camp for Sunni refugees from Mosul who are training to eventually re-claim their city.
—Safa Majeed in Baghdad contributed to this article.