"Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) remnants have stepped up their attacks against Iraqis who venture into the desert in search of truffles over the past period.
Iraqi forces on Tuesday (February 19th) freed five out of eight citizens who were kidnapped by ISIS while they were picking truffles in the area of al-Mudhim in the western Anbar desert.
Joint forces from the al-Jazeera Operations Command and the Iraqi army's 28th Brigade "found the place where the five were being held and freed them", said Rawa mayor Hussein al-Akidi.
The Rawa residents were abducted on February 14th along with three other residents from the city of Haditha whose fate remains unknown, he told Diyaruna.
"The rescued citizens were in good health and told us that the terrorists, an estimated 20 militants, fled as soon as they heard the sound of the military vehicles approaching," he said.
Meanwhile, security forces on Tuesday found the bodies of six out of 12 people who were kidnapped by ISIS remnants on Monday while picking truffles in the al-Nukhaib desert on the border with Saudi Arabia.
"Terrorist elements hiding deep in the al-Nukhaib desert kidnapped 12 citizens from the provinces of Karbala, Najaf and Anbar, including four brothers," deputy governor of Karbala Ali al-Mayali told Diyaruna.
"The citizens were kidnapped while collecting truffles in the area of Jadidat Arar, 130 kilometres west of the centre of al-Nukhaib district," he said.
ISIS elements bound and blindfolded the abductees and took them to a nearby location for interrogation, he said.
"Six of the abductees were killed and their bodies were found on Tuesday by border guard troops in the area of Umm Jadhan near the border with Saudi Arabia, with signs of gunshot to the head," he added.
The kidnappers released two of the four brothers for not carrying a proof of identity, al-Mayali said, while the fate of the other two brothers and two remaining people is still unknown.
Co-existence 'angers terrorists'
"Through this crime, ISIS seeks to strike at the unity and brotherhood that exist between the Iraqi people, to pull us backwards and to revive sectarian strife," al-Mayali said.
"The victims were Sunnis and Shias who were working together to make a living for their families by collecting and selling truffles," he said. "This harmony and co-existence angered the terrorists, who in their horrific act wanted to stir sedition."
"The Iraqi people are united and such despicable acts will not affect their unity," he stressed.
"This terrorist incident requires our security forces to act quickly to track down the remaining ISIS elements in the desert of al-Nukhaib," said al-Mayali.
ISIS remnants are located in a desert area stretching over 800 square kilometres between the provinces of Karbala and Anbar, up to the border with Saudi Arabia, he said, noting that they pose a threat to locals in these areas.
"We need extensive sweep and clear operations in the desert involving all security and military units," he said.
This effort will rely primarily on intelligence work and the use of modern military technology such as drones, thermal cameras and radars, he said.