About 100 gunmen kidnapped at least 26 Qataris from their hunting camp in a sprawling desert area near the Saudi borders in the early hours of Wednesday, the regional governor and police officials said.
Two police officers in Samawa confirmed the kidnappings and said security forces launched a wide-scale search for the Qataris.
“An armed group driving dozens of pickup trucks kidnapped at least 26 Qatari hunters from their camp in the area of Busaya in Samawa desert near Saudi borders,” Samawa governor Falih al-Zayady said.
Hunters from various Gulf states often travel to the area at this time of year for hunting.
A Samawa police colonel said the hunters were escorted by an Iraqi security force but that it decided not to engage a large number of gunmen.
“We are talking about at least 100 gunmen armed with light and medium weapons broke into the Qatari camp and abducted the hunters at around 3 am local time on Wednesday,” said the police colonel, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the mass abduction. Islamic State militants often travel in large numbers in convoys.
Another police officer said initial information suggested that the kidnappers managed to flee with the abducted hunters into a desert area near the southern province of Nassiriya, 300 km (185 miles) south of Baghdad.