DOHA , Qatar, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- A hunting party of at least 27 people from Qatar, including royal family members, was abducted Wednesday in the Iraqi desert, official said.
The unidentified kidnappers, in several dozen vehicles, attacked the hunters' camp at dawn near Layyah, a Samawa Desert town near the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border. The hunters were involved in falconry, a sport historically popular in the Middle East, involving trained falcons used to hunt prey.
A major search operation in the desert has been launched.
The Qatari Foreign Ministry said it was working with Iraqi officials "at the highest security and political levels... to find out the details of the Qatari citizens' abduction and work on their release as soon as possible," adding the group had permission of Iraqi authorities to hunt. The desert is Shia-controlled, and Shia leaders in the Iraqi government have been critical of Qatar's support of Sunni rebels in Syria.
The Qatari government did not offer a list of names of those captured, or information on which members of Qatar's royal family were involved.