BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Gunmen kidnapped the head of Iraq’s Olympic committee and more than a dozen employees Saturday after storming a sports conference in Baghdad, police said. The kidnappers wore camouflage Iraqi police uniforms and security guards outside the meeting said they did not interfere because they thought the gunmen were legitimate law enforcement, police said.
Ahmed al-Hijiya, president of the committee, was taken in the assault, which came a day after the coach of Iraq’s national wrestling team was killed by kidnappers, said police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud.
Others taken Saturday included the deputy head of the Olympic committee, Ammar Jabbar al-Saadi; the chairman of the Taekwondo Federation, Jamal Abdul-Karim; and the chief of the Boxing Federation Union, Bashar Mustafa.
Two guards were killed, one while trying to flee the building.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told reporters that the kidnapping was carried out by “gangs” and not security forces.
There were conflicting reports on the number of people taken but Maj. Gen. Adnan Thabet, commander of the ministry’s special forces, told The Associated Press that al-Hijiya and 20 others were kidnapped.
The Sunni coach of Iraq’s national wrestling team, Mohammed Karim Abid Sahib, was seized with one of his wrestlers Thursday as they left a sports center to buy sweets in the northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah, where the team was preparing for a tournament.
The coach was shot to death while trying to escape later in the day. The wrestler escaped, according to police and wrestling officials.
The team pulled out of the tournament in the United Arab Emirates.
In other violence, Iraqi soldiers and gunmen clashed in Baghdad, leaving at least three people dead and 11 wounded, police said.
Seven people were injured in a mortar attack near Haifa Street in downtown Baghdad, blocks from the Green Zone, which houses U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government.
Similar clashes broke out blocks away, injuring four and killing two civilians. U.S. troops sealed off the area after the attacks, said Iraqi Army Maj. Salman Abdul-Wahid.
The area along Haifa Street has seen heavy violence in recent weeks, which prompted Iraqi leaders.
Iraq’s parliament voted Saturday to extend a nearly two-year state of emergency in Baghdad for another 30 days. The violence along Haifa Street prompted the last extension.
President Jalal Talabani called for establishment of a national front to prevent a sectarian civil war.
In a statement late Friday, Talabani accused Saddam Hussein loyalists and Sunni religious extremists of fomenting sectarian conflict, and he urged establishment of “a national democratic front that includes all those who believe in a new Iraq and are eager to have a democratic system.”
Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated Saturday in the Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad and the southeastern cities of Kut and Amarah, praising the leaders of Hezbollah and denouncing Israel, and the United States, for Israeli attacks on Lebanon.