DOHA // A member of Qatar’s ruling family kidnapped in Iraq last year with 26 other Qataris has been freed, along with a Pakistani man who was travelling with them, Qatar’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
About 100 unidentified armed men seized the group of Qatari hunters from a desert camp in southern Iraq near the Saudi border in December. At least nine members of the group managed to escape and crossed into Kuwait.
“One man is Pakistani, the second is an Al-Thani from the royal family,” a foreign ministry official said. “Efforts are still ongoing to free the rest of the 26 kidnapped,” the ministry said earlier in a statement on the official QNA news agency.
The official gave no details of who had captured them or how the release had been secured.
No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction of the hunters, who were seized in a largely desolate expanse of territory dominated by militias who have accused Doha of meddling in Iraq’s affairs.
Gunmen stormed the Iraqi desert camp near the Saudi border at dawn on December 16, kidnapping the falconry hunters and others there.
The identities of those taken was not made clear, although in December, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said those taken included children.
The hunting party was in Iraq on an officially licensed expedition which is approved by Iraqi authorities who offer local police officers as guards.
However, the Iraqi interior ministry previously accused the hunters of not following their instructions and going into unsecured areas.
Qatar has put pressure on the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to help to secure the hostages’ release.
While Iraq and a United States-led coalition battled ISIL in other parts of the country, the predominantly Shiite province of Muthana remained under the control of the nation’s central government.
Gulf Arabs often brave the risks of travel to countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Iraq to hunt with falcons without the bag limits and conservation measures they face at home. Their favoured prey is the houbara bustard – a large game bird once hunted to near-extinction in the Middle East.
* Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press