ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In separate cases of abduction in rural areas in Iraq's western Anbar province, unknown gunmen have recently kidnapped 20 Iraqis while harvesting truffles. On Tuesday, six were reportedly executed, while five others were said to have been released.
The incidents appear to only be connected by the activity the civilians were engaged in when the gunmen had picked them up, collecting the highly-valued subterranean mushrooms which start to appear in the countryside and arid tracts of land in Iraq around springtime.
Anbar is a Sunni-majority province and a number of the abductees are reportedly from neighboring Shia-majority provinces, where local officials claimed that Islamic State militants were behind the incidents. The terrorist organization, however, has yet to publicly claim responsibility for the acts.
The latest kidnapping, seemingly the fourth such incident around the area since early February, occurred in al-Nukhayb sub-district, south of Anbar, where twelve men were captured. Two of the abductees were later released while six of them were executed later in the day, Alsumaria reported, quoting local officials.
“Da’esh [ISIS] executed six of the abductees who are from al-Hira of Najaf province and were kidnapped in al-Nukhayb,” said Ali al-Mayali, deputy Governor of Karbala Province, where the bodies were first taken while en route to where the victims' hometown of Najaf.
Four others were from Karbala, Mayali had previously said, while confirming without giving specific details that two of them had been released. The father of one of the men asserted they were freed because they were not carrying IDs.
Following the release of the two, the deputy governor handed Baghdad an ultimatum of 24 hours “to rescue our sons,” or “the local government would mobilize” to do so, stating “known entities are behind their kidnapping.”
It is unclear exactly what the official was referencing by “known entities,” but he has previously claimed Islamic State fighters were behind the abduction of the twelve men.
On the same day, five other men were released. These were a group that was taken in the northern part of Anbar, in Rawah District. One of the abductees, Salah Falih, retold his story in an interview with Alsumaria and said they had been held “on ransom.” He did not state whether their captors had released them after payments had been made.
According to Falih, they had been abducted by a number of gunmen in three pickup trucks. They were tied up, had their eyes covered, and taken to an unspecified location “west” from their initial location.
After their blindfolds were removed, he added, he had seen “Da’esh banners.” The group was then put in a compact room underground and kept there for five days. They were later returned to their cars where they had been taken while busy scouring for truffles.
Concurrent with the kidnapping of the five men, three more people just east of Rawah in Haditha District were abducted who were also digging through rural areas for the mushrooms, a security source told Kurdistan 24. The fate of these three individuals is unknown.
On Feb 08, this time in Salahuddin Province, the bodies of three other men were found. They were alleged to have been killed by Islamic State fighters after abducting them on Makhoul Mountain.
Locals in the provinces of Salahuddin, Diyala, Kirkuk, Anbar, and Nineveh have repeatedly warned Iraqi military officials of growing activity by Islamic State militants in the area. The group’s fighters often use mountainous areas or other rural regions as bases or hiding spots, making it challenging for security forces and the US-led coalition to find or track them.
Over the past year, they have carried out various insurgent attacks, including explosions, kidnappings, and ambushes in multiple parts of the country despite Iraq declaring victory against the Islamic State in December 2017.
Editing by John J. Catherine