Rescue prepared for kidnapped Brits
The SAS was on standby to mount a dramatic rescue mission in Baghdad this evening after five British nationals were kidnapped in a daring raid by suspected Shia militants.An inside job sounds plausible. I expect that people in charge of security for the building will be the first to be interrogated. It is still a rather strange kidnapping. Why take the security personnel? If Iran was behind the kidnapping they may be trying to work another Brit swap for more of their detainees in Iraq. It did after all work for them with the sailors.
Dozens of gunmen and vehicles apparently belonging to a paramilitary unit of the Iraqi interior ministry participated in the daylight raid to snatch the hostages from a government building in the heart of the Iraqi capital.
The exact number of those kidnapped from the finance ministry was still unclear this evening, with witnesses reporting that up to seven people, possibly including Germans, were bundled into cars and driven off.
But the Foreign Office confirmed that five Britons - a computer expert and four security contractors - were among those seized in the well organised operation.
"We can confirm that a group of five British nationals were abducted in central Baghdad," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
"Officials from our embassy are in urgent contact with the Iraqi authorities to try to establish the facts and to secure a swift resolution."
In Whitehall, the emergency response committee, Cobra, is meeting tonight to co-ordinate efforts to bring about the release of the five men.
British officials said a crisis team had been assembled with police hostage negotiators, MI6 officials and Arabic linguists preparing to fly out to Baghdad. On the ground the crisis team will liaise with the SAS.
Norman Kember, the 76-year-old Christian peace activist, was freed in an SAS operation in Baghdad last year. The elite Special Forces regiment maintains a rapid reaction unit in Baghdad on permanent high alert for any reports of British kidnapping.
Four of the five Britons, who have yet to be named, were private security contractors for the Canadian firm, GardaWorld. They were protecting a computer consultant, who was working for the US-based consultancy BearingPoint and was at the ministry to giving a presentation.
The raid began just before midday, when the uniformed raiders - clearly armed with intelligence on their targets - cooly strolled into the ministry, which is on Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad, a stronghold of the city's Shia Muslim population and just outside the city's heavily fortified diplomatic Green Zone.
A man in a police major's uniform then shouted: "Where are the foreigners? Where are the foreigners?" The raiders then escaped with their hostages.
It was apparently carried out without a shot being fired. The scale and degree of organisation of the raid suggested that renegade interior ministry personnel were involved.