Al-Samarra police chief General Malik al-Khezraji said the missing men were members of a group of 229 from the city who had gone south to the capital Baghdad to join the police force.
Al-Khezraji said 36 men, who failed to meet recruitment standards, were returning home by bus on 16 January when they were held up by dozens of unidentified gunmen. He said one police volunteer was shot and injured as he escaped.
U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Wellman noted that the 36 had decided to return home by commercial bus. He added that the incident took place near Al-Taji, 30 kilometers north of Baghdad.