‘I felt like life was beginning again’: Qataris kidnapped in Iraq speak of joy at release

Twenty-four Qatari hostages and two Saudis were released on Friday after they were released under a complex regional deal linked to the Syrian civil war.

DOHA // Two Qatari hunters who endured a 16-month hostage ordeal in Iraq spoke on Sunday of their joy at being released, in the first public comments since the group was freed.

Mohammed Marzouki was among 24 Qataris and two Saudis who were on a hunting trip in a mainly Shiite area of southern Iraq when they were kidnapped in late 2015.

They flew back to Doha on Friday after they were released under a complex regional deal linked to the Syrian civil war.

"When I saw the lights of Doha, I felt like life was beginning again – my happiness is indescribable," Mr Marzouki told the local Arabic daily newspaper, Al Sharq.

“My joy at returning to the homeland is a feeling that cannot be described in words.”

Another hostage, Khalid Bin Dhafer Al Dosari, told the newspaper that “all our aches and pains disappeared once we reached our homeland”.

The hunting party, believed to include prominent members of the Qatari royal family, were captured in mid-December 2015 and held captive until last Friday.

There was never any claim of responsibility for the kidnapping of the hunters, who were widely believed to have been taken by militias with close ties to Tehran.

The terms of the group’s release have not been made public.

After flying home on Friday, the hunters were met at Doha’s Hamad International Airport by the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

The release deal was linked to the evacuation of thousands of people from the Syrian government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya, long besieged by rebels.

The evacuations marked the end of the first stage of a deal brokered by rebel backer Qatar and the regime’s ally Iran.

Wealthy citizens of Sunni Gulf states venture to countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq to hunt with falcons without the bag limits and conservation measures they face at home.

* Agence France-Presse

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■ Comment: The complex backstory of the Qatari hostage deal

■ Pictures: Houbara hunting with falcons becoming too dangerous in a time of regional unrest

■ Sport of kings: Qatari kidnapping casts spotlight on hunting houbara

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