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Gunmen Stage Kidnapping At Baghdad Red Crescent Branch --> The scene following the kidnapping (AFP) December 17, 2006 -- Gunmen wearing police uniforms kidnapped as many as 30 people at a Red Crescent Society branch in central Baghdad today.

Unidentified Red Crescent officials and witnesses said gunmen arrived in pickup trucks, stormed the office, and escaped with employees, visitors, and security guards.

Official Uniforms, Official Vehicles

"More than 10 cars pulled over here," said one witness. "They were official vehicles and the men were in police commandos. They kidnapped all the employees of the society."

Another witness was quoted by Reuters as saying “they took all the men, separated them from the women, and left.”

The head of the Iraqi Red Crescent office, Mazen Abdullah, appealed to the kidnappers to release the hostages.

"They took all the men, separated them from the women, and left."

"I am from this place making an appeal to all the kidnappers and also for all the Iraqi people that we are united, we are independent, we are neutral," Abdullah said.

"We are looking to help the Iraqi people everywhere without dealing with their ethnic or religious or political issues. Just helping the IDPs, the [internally] displaced people, the disabled, and also the refugees everywhere. Trying to help the Iraqi people and those staff working hard every day to help the Iraqi people everywhere so I ask those groups to release them directly," he said.

Morning Raid

Abdullah said 30 staff members were captured during the 11 a.m. raid. Reuters cited police as saying 10 to 20 people were kidnapped.

The attack came as British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Baghdad today to meet with top Iraqi leaders.

(Reuters, AP, AFP)

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