I’ve published an update to yesterday’s news item in Nature.
Almost all those taken hostage in yesterday’s mass kidnapping in Baghdad, now appear to have been freed in a series of security force operations.
Confusion has reigned throughout the day as to the numbers and identity of those kidnapped, and who was behind it, and why. The facts keep changing, Monika Lengauer, a spokeswoman for UNESCO’s Baghdad office, said this afternoon. The office, which is temporarily based in Amman, Jordan is trying to verify the many sources of “conflicting information,” she adds.
Estimates of numbers of those kidnapped are now lower than the 150 widely reported earlier, however. It nows seems that 50 to 70 administrative staff and visitors were kidnapped at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Karrada district in central Baghdad.
Almost all the hostages — all male, including from both Sunni and Shia groups — are thought to have been released early this afternoon.
In most kidnappings so far hostages have usually been taken outside of Baghdad before being killed. Here it seems the assailants had not been able to extricate them from the city, allowing police to free the hostages in a series of raids, says Abbas Al-Hussaini, general secretary of the Iraqi Higher Education Organising Committee in London. It is not known if the kidnappers were arrested.
The motives and perpetrators of the kidnapping remains unknown, says Al-Hussaini, adding that its non-sectarian nature, and other evidence, points to the daring raid being a show of strength by competing militias. Several police officials have been arrested as part of investigations, amid suspicions of police collusion.
Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri Maliki visited Baghdad University today to reassure staff. At a meeting of higher education ministers in Cairo yesterday, KoÃ¯chiro Matsuura, director general of UNESCO had called for release of the hostages, adding that â€œIraq needs its intellectuals and academics now more than ever.â€
â€œOver recent months they â€“ and the education system as a whole – have been deliberately targeted in a campaign of bloodshed and violence,” said Matsura, adding that the international community and Iraq, needed to do more “to bring this intolerable situation to an end.â€