Dozens of Iraqis kidnapped at government building are freed

About 70 victims of a mass kidnapping at an office of the Higher Education Ministry have been released, a ministry spokesman said Wednesday, but officials were unable to say how many remained captive.

"The latest news I have is that 32 of those kidnapped were released this afternoon," ministry spokesman Basil al-Khatib said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Since yesterday 27 employees were released as well as some others. The total was 40, and now we have additional 32."

He said Higher Education Minister Abed Theyab has announced that he will stop attending ministry or Cabinet meetings until all the captors have been released.

Since Tuesday's kidnapping during which dozens of men were handcuffed and loaded aboard about 20 pickup trucks by gunmen dressed in the uniforms of Interior Ministry commandos there has been confusion about how many people were taken captive and how many were later freed.

The Interior and Defense ministries had insisted late Tuesday that only 40 to 50 people were kidnapped from the Higher Education Ministry office, which handles academic grants and exchanges. Theyab, however, had said as many as 150 people were abducted, reports AP.

Theyab held to his high estimate in an interview Wednesday with satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera. He also disputed reports of a higher number of people released than al-Khatib had said. "According to our estimates, a big group of more than 100 people were taken," Theyab said.

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