updated 12/1/2006 2:22:29 PM ET 2006-12-01T19:22:29

Gunmen have kidnapped the Sunni head of one of Iraq’s leading soccer clubs, an official said Friday, the latest in a series of attacks against sports figures amid spiraling sectarian violence.

Hadib Majhoul, the chairman of the popular Talaba club and a member of the Iraqi Soccer Federation, was seized late Thursday by gunmen in two cars who intercepted him while he was going to work, said Tariq Ahmed, an official with the federation.

Police confirmed that Majhoul was kidnapped in northern Baghdad but did not elaborate, citing concerns for his safety.

Athletes and sports officials have increasingly become targets of threats, kidnappings and assassination attempts, either as part of retaliatory violence between Shiites and Sunnis or for ransom.

A blind Iraqi athlete and Paralympics coach were kidnapped late last month but were released unharmed after sports officials said their abductors determined neither was linked to the Sunni insurgency.

An Iraqi international soccer referee also was abducted this fall as he left the soccer association’s offices. The kidnappers reportedly demanded a $200,000 ransom.

Days earlier, gunmen killed a 37-year-old former national volleyball player, Naseer Shamil, in his shop in Baghdad, while 22-year-old Ghanim Ghudayer, a popular soccer player and member of the Iraqi Olympic team, was kidnapped in September. He has not been heard from since.

In July, Iraq’s national soccer coach, Akram Ahmed Salman, resigned after receiving death threats against him and his family.

That came shortly after gunmen kidnapped the chairman of Iraq’s National Olympic Committee and at least 30 other officials, including the presidents of the taekwondo and boxing federations, in a bold daylight raid on a sports conference in the heart of Baghdad. Iraq’s national wrestling coach, a Sunni, was killed around the same time in a Shiite district of Baghdad.

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