Popular Iraqi soccer player kidnapped in Baghdad

Once a member of the country's Olympic team a young soccer player who is very popular in Iraq  was kidnapped in Baghdad days before his departure, police said Monday.

Ghanim Ghudayer, 22, considered one of the best players in Baghdad's Air Force Club, was snatched on Sunday evening by unknown assailants in the al-Amil neighborhood in the west part of the capital where he lives, said police 1st Lt. Mutaz Salahiddin.

Some of the kidnappers were dressed in military uniforms, Salahiddin said.

Samir Kadhim, head of the Air Force Club, said the player had been preparing to go to a training session when he was intercepted by the assailants in two vehicles. Kadhim said Ghudayer had recently signed a one-year contract with a club in Syria and had been planning to leave Iraq within a few days, AP reports.

The Air Force team has been in Lebanon over the past week for a training camp to prepare for a domestic championship and for the Asia Cup. Ghudayer had not joined the team because of his new contract with the club in Syria, Kadhim said.

Iraqi sports officials and athletes have frequently faced threats, kidnappings and killings.

"There is a general feeling of fear among the players after the terrorists start targeting them," Kadhim said. "Some of them are not coming to training, some are not completing their training. From our side we are encouraging them but still they have fears."

He said some soccer players were trying to get contracts abroad in order to leave the country.

In July, Iraq's national soccer coach, Akram Ahmed Salman, resigned after receiving death threats against him and his family.

Earlier that month, unknown gunmen kidnapped the chairman of Iraq's National Olympic Committee and at least 30 other officials, including the presidents of the taekwondo and boxing federations, in a brazen daylight raid on a sports conference in Baghdad's heart.

That abduction came after Iraq's national wrestling coach, a Sunni, was killed in a Shiite district of Baghdad.

Soccer is popular in Iraq, where the national team's successes in the past three years have provided a joyous distraction from the daily violence.

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