BAGHDAD, Iraq – Gunmen abducted a top Iraqi basketball official and a blind athletic coach, both Sunnis, on Wednesday, a day after U.S. and Iraqi forces lifted a blockade on Baghdad’s Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City.
The attack took place at a youth club on relatively prosperous Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad near the Sadr City district, which is controlled by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. The militia has been linked to scores of abductions and torture killings of Sunnis.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered military roadblocks dismantled Tuesday around the sprawling slum of 2.5 million. Al-Maliki acted under pressure from al-Sadr, whose political faction is a key part of the governing coalition.
Athletes and sports officials have increasingly become targets of threats, kidnappings and assassination attempts, with an Iraqi international soccer referee seized just last month as he left the soccer association’s offices. The kidnappers reportedly demanded a $200,000 ransom.
Wednesday’s attack on the coaches began when men in four SUVs drove up to the youth club, said police Lt. Ali Mohsin. They seized basketball federation chief Khalid Nejim, who also was a coach for the national basketball team, and Issam Khalef, who coached blind athletes.