A band of gunmen wearing military uniforms descended on a commercial street in the center of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Thursday and abducted about 20 merchants in a brazen daylight raid.
Witnesses reported that the gunmen were wearing the uniforms of the National Police and driving five sports utility vehicles, several of them painted like government cars, a security official said.
The gunmen fired a fusillade of shots into the air as they drove away from the site, sending cars reversing across Baghdad's bridges to get out of their way.
Pedestrians could also be seen running away along the banks of the Tigris and scurrying for safety across the bridges.
Kidnappings in broad daylight have become just another deadly feature of daily life in Baghdad as lawlessness increasingly takes over the battered city.
The kidnappings are believed to be the work of shadowy gangs and largely done for profit, although in some cases that result in the execution of the victims there appear to be sectarian motives.