Iraqi gunmen abduct up to 26 Qatari hunters

In a remote desert area in southern Iraq, unidentified gunmen driving in SUVs raided a camp for falconry hunters on Wednesday, abducting up to 26 Qataris, Iraqi officials said.

The gunmen raided the camp located in the desert in Samawah province at dawn, snatching between 19 and 26 Qataris, Ahmed Manfi, a member of the provincial council, told The Associated Press.

Two Iraqi intelligence officers were also abducted but were later released, Manfi added.

Iraq's Interior Ministry said the aim of the abduction was "to achieve political and media goals." A ministry statement said police were carrying out search operations in the area.

Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Samawah is located on the Euphrates River, about 230 miles southeast of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Hunters from Gulf states, mainly Qatar, often visit Iraq's vast western and southern desert areas for hunting and purchasing falcons. Iraqi authorities approve the expeditions and provide protective forces that accompany the hunters.

Qatar is often seen by Iraqis as a main supporter of Sunni militant groups, mainly the Islamic State group, which has captured large swaths of land in Iraq and neighboring Syria.