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3 missing American contractors were kidnapped by criminal gang, Iraq says

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Iraqi security forces man a checkpoint on the main road from Baghdad's central Jaderiyah district to Dora on the southern outskirts of the Iraqi capital on January 18, 2016. US and Iraqi authorities were searching for three missing Americans said to have been kidnapped in southern Baghdad, the latest group of foreign nationals abducted in recent months. / AFP / SABAH ARAR (Photo: SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Three American contractors missing in Iraq were kidnapped, the Iraqi defense minister said Thursday.

An organized crime gang is believed to be behind the abductions, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi told reporters in Baghdad.

The contractors were visiting a house in Dora, a district in southern Baghdad, when gunmen abducted them, he said.

He didn’t know if the gang was Shiite of Sunni but said the criminals were known for previous incidents of kidnapping and blackmailing.

The three contractors had been identified as two Iraqi-Americans and one Egyptian-American.

An Iraqi official said the missing men work for a security service company called Sallyport, but a spokesman for Michael Baker International, Sallyport’s parent company, said the report was false.