December 22, 2015
Kidnappers who snatched nine members of the Qatari royal family have demanded the release of a Shia cleric facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia in return for their freedom.
Armed men kidnapped at least 26 Qatari hunters, including members of the royal family, from their camp near Samawah province, 230 miles from Baghdad last week.
Reports suggest they are being held by Iranian-linked Shia elements who have set out political and sectarian demands for their release.
It comes as pictures emerged on the Instagram account of one of the men believed to have been captured, purportedly showing the hunting party about a week before the abduction took place.
The al Bab website says the Iraqi television channel al-Sharqiyya has learned the kidnappers want a change in Qatar’s policy over Iraq and have called for the release of prisoners in Syria.
The TV channel says the kidnappers also want Qatar to ‘open up to some of the political factions that have armed extensions in Iraq and stop holding rallies and conferences of opposition figures’.
Meanwhile, they have also reportedly called for the release of detainees held by Sunni Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.
Another website, Erem News, say the kidnappers want a prisoner exchange for Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.
None of the demands have been confirmed independently.
The raid was carried out in the early hours of the morning said the area’s governor, Faleh al-Zayadi, adding that around 100 kidnappers on 50 machine gun mounted SUVs launched the attack.
It comes after Iraq’s foreign minister denied any link between his government and the kidnappings, allegedly carried out by people linked to Shiite militiamen.
During a press conference after talks with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah, a reporter asked Ibrahim al-Jaafari to comment on ‘accusations that the kidnappers are members of Hashad al-Shaabi (Shiite paramilitary force), which is linked to the Iraqi government.’
‘I categorically deny that the Iraqi government has any link to the (kidnapping) case,’ Jaafari said. ‘I hope some would not become suspicious that the government colluded’ with the kidnappers.
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.
The Qataris, which include members of the small country’s royal family, were kidnapped in southern Iraq last week.
There is significant hostility in Iraq, especially in the Shiite-majority south, over the Gulf countries’ policies on the Syrian civil war and perceived complicity in the rise of ISIS.
Jaafari acknowledged that security problems in his war-torn country could have led to the kidnapping.
He also insisted that the Iraqi government has been working to resolve the issue and secure the release of the Qataris.
His remarks came after the Gulf Cooperation Council condemned Tuesday the kidnapping as a ‘breach of international law’ and warned it could ‘hurt relations between Arab brothers.’
A statement called on Baghdad to shoulder ‘its international legal commitments and to take immediate and decisive measures to ensure the safety of those abducted and secure their release.’
The hunters entered Iraq with an ‘official permit’ from the interior ministry, Qatari has said.
Kuwaiti media reported at the weekend that at least seven of the Qataris had managed to flee from their captors and travel home through Kuwait.
There has been no official Qatari confirmation.
The kidnappings come a little over three months after gunmen seized 18 Turks in Baghdad before later releasing them unharmed.
Turkey, like Qatar, has close ties to Syrian rebel groups and is accused by some of not doing enough to combat ISIS.
Source: Daily Mail