BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Gunmen have kidnapped a player for one of Iraq’s biggest soccer clubs, just days before he was due to sign a transfer to a Syrian club to escape the raging violence in his homeland, an Iraqi official said on Monday.
Ghanim Khudheyir, 22, striker at the Iraqi Air Force club was taken from his home on Thursday by gunmen in civilian clothes who claimed to be members of the Interior Ministry intelligence service, team manager Mohammed Rasoul told Reuters.
Police said the kidnapping, by men in camouflage uniform, occurred on Sunday morning, but Rasoul said the club and Khudheyir’s family had delayed reporting it until they checked whether he was indeed being held by the Interior Ministry.
Rasoul said Khudheyir was one of the club’s brightest talents and had recently played for the national under-23 Olympic team. He said the player had been due to sign for a Syrian club last Saturday, after helping Air Force win the first post-war championship in 2005.
“He requested a termination of his contract so he could join the Syrian al-Furat club on Saturday. He was afraid of the deterioration in security. I hope the kidnappers will release him soon and unharmed,” Rasoul said.
Sportsmen have been targets in Iraq’s mounting violence. Iraq’s national soccer coach Akram Salman fled to Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this year after receiving death threats.
In July, gunmen abducted the head of Iraq’s National Olympic Committee and 30 other people in Baghdad, and in May, 15 athletes and officials from the Taekwondo martial arts squad were kidnapped by insurgents in western Iraq.