Turkey on Wednesday confirmed that 18 Turkish construction workers have been kidnapped by unknown individuals in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
“Eighteen Turkish citizens working for a construction company in Baghdad have been kidnapped,” Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters.
“We are in close contact with the Iraqi (interior) ministry and hope the incident will end positively.”
The Iraqi authorities had earlier said gunmen had abducted at least 17 Turkish employees of a company building a football stadium in the Shiite-dominated Sadr City area of north Baghdad.
Nurol Insaat, a leading Turkish construction company, confirmed in a statement to AFP that its workers had been abducted in Baghdad and said that it had not yet received any ransom demand.
Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic also said that the kidnapped Turks were working on the construction of a stadium in Baghdad and included 14 workers, 3 engineers and an accountant.
Masked men in military uniform kidnapped the workers at 3:00 am local time after storming the construction site, Bilgic said, quoted by the state-run the Anatolia news agency
“We have learnt that the Turkish workers had been separated from workers from other countries during the kidnapping and were specifically chosen,” he was quoted as saying by Anatolia.
It remains unclear who has kidnapped the workers and whether the motive was chiefly political or financial.
Sadr City is a stronghold of pro-government Shiite militias battling the Islamic State jihadist group, which overran large areas of Iraq last year.
Ankara has been accused of complacency towards IS and complicity in assisting the jihadist group, which holds substantial territory in Iraq and Syria just over Turkey’s southern border.
But the kidnapping also comes after Turkish war planes on Friday bombed IS targets in Syria for the first time as part of the US-led coalition against the jihadists.
Late on Tuesday, one Turkish soldier was killed and another reported missing following cross-border fire from Islamic State-held territory in Syria, the army said.
Kurtulmus said there was no information on the missing soldier, who is feared to have been abducted on Syrian territory.
In June 2014, IS jihadists kidnapped 49 staff of Turkey’s consulate in the Iraqi city of Mosul after seizing control of the city.
They were all released unharmed in September 2014 after top-secret negotiations led by Turkey’s intelligence agency that reportedly resulted in the release of jihadist prisoners in Turkey in exchange for the embassy staff.