Iraqi police officers patrol a main road leading out of the town of Haditha, 260 km north-west of Baghdad.

Masked gunmen hijacked a bus carrying 20 police recruits in Iraq on Friday and took them to an area bordering Syria where al Qaeda operates.

The kidnappers carried machineguns and rocket propelled grenades, reported Reuters. They seized the bus on a road from Mosul to Baghdad and took the recruits to Anbar province.

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"There were 20 volunteers coming from Mosul on their way to Baghdad. They stopped in a restaurant to get lunch in Baiji and when they left, gunmen kidnapped them," a senior police officer from the area told Reuters.

According to CNN, at least six SUVs carried more than 15 gunmen to the bus, where they forced the driver to take them to their destination.

"All our checkpoints at the entrance to Anbar are on high alert to look for the (hijacked) bus," said a police source to Reuters.

During the height of Iraq's insurgency from 2005 to 2007, Anbar province was almost entirely controlled by al Qaeda, until most members of the terrorist group were pushed out by local tribesmen and US troops, Reuters continued. Security is still a major challenge for Iraq, with nearly 2000 people killed already this year.

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