Gunmen have kidnapped at least 27 Qatari hunters – including members of the ruling family – in a desert area of Iraq near the Saudi border, say police and the local governor.
The attackers were driving dozens of four-wheel drive vehicles when they swept into the hunters’ camp at dawn on Wednesday, officials said.
They struck near Layyah, 190km (118 miles) from regional capital, Samawa.
A wide-scale search has been launched for the attackers, police say.
The Qatari foreign ministry released a statement saying it was working with the Iraqi government “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”.
It said they had been hunting with official Iraqi permission – though Iraq’s interior ministry accused the hunters of failing to abide by its instructions to remain inside secured areas.
The aim of the abduction was “to achieve political and media goals”, the interior ministry said.
The remote area where the incident took place is highly tribal in nature and a Shia region, reports the BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut.
The Shia political parties which dominate the Iraqi government are highly critical of Qatar’s role in supporting Sunni rebels in Syria – so this is bound to be a serious diplomatic incident, he says.