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Kidnapped Qataris released in Iraq after 16 month ordeal

The deal reportedly included the evacuation of thousands of people in Syria [AFP]

Date of publication: 21 April, 2017

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A complicated deal including Qatari hunters, millions of dollars, and civilians in besieged towns in Syria has ended with the release of the Gulf hostages from their Iraqi militia captors.
Members of a Qatari hunting party kidnapped in 2015 by militiamen in southern Iraq have been freed and are being handed over to a delegation from the Gulf country in Baghdad on Friday, a senior interior ministry official said.

"The interior ministry has received the Qatari hunters, all 26 of them," the minister's adviser, Wahab al-Taee, told AFP. "They will be handed over to the Qatari envoy."

The hunters, currently in Baghdad, will undergo identity checks by Iraqi officials and will be handed over to a Qatari delegation that has been waiting in Iraq since last week.

The group was kidnapped by up to 100 Iraqi Shia militiamen in 2015 during a hunting trip in southern Iraq and is believed to include a number of prominent members of the Qatari royal family.

The ministry official would not provide details of the deal reached for their release, but a source close to the negotiations told AFP on condition of anonymity that it was part of a broad regional deal.

"The Qataris are now in (Prime Minister) Haider al-Abadi's office following a deal between al-Nusra Front [now renamed Fatah al-Sham and part of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham coalition] and the kidnappers," the source said, referring to the former al-Qaeda affiliate.

There was never any claim for the kidnapping of the hunters, who were seized in a predominally Shia area of Iraq.

They were widely believed to have been nabbed by militias with close ties to Tehran.

The source said the deal included the evacuation of thousands of people from the northern Syrian villages of Fuaa and Kafraya, which are regime-controlled and were besieged by surrounding rebels.

The evacuations, which began last week, were delayed after a suicide car bombing on Saturday killed 126 people - including 68 children - at the transit point in Rashidin. 

The process resumed on Wednesday but was delayed for two nights after a last-minute demand from rebel groups that prisoners held by President Bashar al-Assad's regime be released.

Buses transporting hundreds of frightened Syrian evacuees were on the move again Friday after the delay.

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