Four of five abducted shepherds freed, fifth missing

Kirkuk, June 2021: the road linking the villages of the Riyadh sub-district within the Hawija district. KirkukNow

By Layla Ahmed in Salahaddin

Two gunmen riding a motorcycle kidnapped five shepherds in and seized a 400-sheep herd in a village of Salhaddin province, before one of the kidnapped shepherds managed to escape, while the gunmen left three of them blindfolded in a remote area, yet still the fate of one of them is unknown.

The accident occurred on Thursday, April 7, in the village of Yangija, located to the west of the Tuz Krumatou district, in Salah al-Din Governorate.

One of the shepherds, whom the kidnappers released and left them blindfolded in a remote place, told KirkukNow, "It was eight in the morning, the five of us were grazing our livestock, two armed men on a motorcycle came and pointed gunsat us. They identified themselves as belonging to Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ISIS) and asked us to surrender."

two armed men on a motorcycle came and pointed guns at us

"The two militants were masked, detained us and seized our livestock. One of us surprised them when he had the opportunity and ran away. They blindfolded us and our hands and took us walking for about three hours to an unknown and remote place," he added.

"After that, they left three of us blindfolded in that isolated place, before our people found us, but they took a shepherd with them and so far, we know nothing about his fate."

"They were ISIS elements," said the surviving shepherds, which was also confirmed by the director of the Yangija police station.

The multi-ethnic district of Duz Khurmatu, located 70 kilometers south of Kirkuk and part of Salahaddin province, is the only disputed town of the province and one of the disputed territories between Erbil and Baghdad, home to 130,000 Turkmens, Kurds and Arabs.

The predominantly Sunni province of Salahaddin, about 135 kilometers north of the Iraqi capital, once home for Saddam Hussein, is under the control of Iraqi Security Forces ISF including the Shia-led paramilitary forces known as al-Hashid al-Shabi, the Popular Mobilization Forces PMF.

Adnan Naim Ahmed, director of the Yangija police station, said, "The three shepherds who survived were not released in exchange for a sum of money. We believe that what happened was done by ISIS militants.”

“We do not know the purpose of that and we have intensified our investigations," he added. "The fate of one of the kidnapped shepherds is still unknown."

The five shepherds, all Arabs, have managed to get back the flock.

"Daesh militants left the sheeps behind in a remote area and it was returned to their owners."

The four surviving shepherds reported the incident to Yangija police station.

In mid-February, over 1,500 villagers were asked by the security forces to leave five villages in Beji district of Salahaddin province due to the “security vacuum” in the region.

337 families have evacuated five villages to center of Makhool sub-district, adjacent to Hawija district from the east and Anbar province from the west.

Those five villages, mainly Sunni Arabs, are displaced for the second time after they were forced to escape Islamic State in Iraq and Syria ISIS atrocities in 2014 up to end of 2017 when Iraqi forces regained control of Tikrit, center of Salahaddin province.

The villages located northwest of Tikrit are a bit far from the last security checkpoints by Salahaddin security forces which is a vast wide area.

IS militants are regrouping in the rural areas of the disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil. They are targeting Iraqi forces and civilians in the suburbs of Diyla, Kirkuk Ninawa, Salahaddin and Erbil.

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