BAGHDAD, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- A total of five civilians were kidnapped Saturday in Iraq's central province of Salahudin by armed men who were believed to be Islamic State (IS) militants, a provincial police source said.
The incident took place in the morning when the five civilians were on a trip in Sdeirah area in the east of the city of Shirqat, some 280 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Colonel Mohammed Khalaf from Salahudin provincial police told Xinhua.
A friend of one of the kidnapped men told the police that he had received a phone call from an unknown person on the number of his friend, who appeared to be one of the kidnappers, informing him about the abduction before disconnecting the line, Khalaf said without giving further details.
The security forces in the areas launched an investigation into the incident and started a search operation in Sdeirah area, Khalaf added.
During the past few months, dozens of IS militants fled their former bases in the predominately Sunni Arab province of Salahudin, Hawijah area in west of Kirkuk, after the Iraqi forces drove out the extremist militants from these areas during anti-IS offensives in the past few months.
On Dec. 9, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi officially declared full liberation of Iraq from IS militants after Iraqi forces recaptured all the areas once seized by the extremist group.
However, small groups and individuals of IS militants melted in urban areas or resorted to deserts and rugged areas looking for safe havens. They are still capable of carrying out attacks from time to time against the security forces and civilians.