Gunmen kidnap 42 students near Mosul

In one of the biggest mass abductions in Iraq in recent months, gunmen kidnapped 42 university students travelling in a bus near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Sunday.


BAGHDAD, April 6 (Reuters) - Gunmen kidnapped 42 university
students near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday, police
said, in one of the biggest mass abductions in the country in
many months.

"Gunmen stopped two buses in a village south of Mosul," said
Khalid Abdul-Sattar, police spokesman for Nineveh province.

"One of the buses managed to flee. The second bus was
stopped and 42 male students were seized."

No group claimed responsibility but suspicion will fall on
Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, which has regrouped in northern
provinces after being pushed out of western Anbar province and
Baghdad following a series of military offensives.

The U.S. military says Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, is
al Qaeda's last major urban stronghold in the country.

In Baghdad, five people were killed and 17 wounded in
clashes between U.S. soldiers and gunmen in a Shi'ite stronghold
on Sunday, Iraqi police said.

The U.S. military said a helicopter air strike had killed
nine "criminals" in the Sadr City slum although it was not aware
of any gunbattles there. It gave no more details.

Police said the operation started in the early hours of
Sunday and some fighting reached the outskirts of densely
populated Sadr City, home to 2 million people in east Baghdad.

Sadr City is the stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia of
anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Security forces
fought gunbattles with the Mehdi Army in Sadr City late last
month, part of clashes that killed hundreds of people in the
capital and across southern Iraq.

No details were available on those killed on Sunday and it
was unclear if the police toll included casualties from the air
strike. Police said women and children were among the wounded.

They said U.S. forces had cordoned off some areas of the
district, including police stations, and had prevented police
from using their radio communications equipment. Some police in
Sadr City are accused of being sympathetic to the Mehdi Army.

The fighting came after Iraq's leaders called on all parties
to disband their militias before provincial elections this year,
an apparent attempt to isolate the populist Sadr.

The political council of national security, which comprises
the president, the two vice presidents, the prime minister and
the heads of political blocs in parliament, issued a 15-point
statement at a late night news conference on Saturday.

A key demand was for all parties and political blocs to
dissolve their militias immediately and hand in their weapons.
The statement did not mention any militias by name, but Sadr
appeared to be the target.

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