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Emir greets returned Qatari hostages

Qatar News Agency

Sheikh Tamim greets the returning hostages.

Updated with information from QNA

Some 26 people who were taken hostage near Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia during a hunting trip in December 2015 have now been released.

The group reportedly included members of Qatar’s ruling family, the Al Thanis, as well as some children.

According to QNA, Emir Sheikh Tamim received the hostages at Hamad International Airport when they flew in on Friday afternoon.

Citing anonymous Iraqi government officials, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the release was the result of lengthy negotiations between Iran, Qatar and militant groups.

The move also came after “millions of dollars in payments” were made to Sunni and Shia factions, the unnamed officials told AP.

Efforts to secure the hostages’ release have been stepped up in recent months.

In March, some US$2 million was reportedly paid by an Al Thani to an American company to help free the group.

Ransom payments

Earlier this week, the Guardian reported that a Qatari plane had been sent to Baghdad to collect the hostages.

The jet arrived on Saturday, but apparently the hostages’ expected release was delayed by the bombing of a convoy carrying residents of two Shia towns in northern Syria.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The publication said Qatari officials had flown into Baghdad with large bags that they refused to allow to be searched.

Senior Iraqi officials told the newspaper that they believed the bags were carrying millions of dollars in ransom money.

This money was to be split between three groups, including the Iraqi militia group Keta’eb Hezbollah. It is also expected to go to two Syrian groups: the al-Qaida inspired Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, the Guardian reported.

Thoughts?

QNA

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ended a historic visit to Qatar yesterday amid new deals to create nearly 6,000 jobs for Filipinos back home.

The official had arrived in Qatar on Friday, and signed four agreements with the Emir when they met yesterday.

They are in the areas of culture, health, investments and technical/ vocational training, QNA reports.

QNA

Signing of Qatar-Philippines agreements.

Some 13 agreements were also signed over the weekend between private firms in the areas of health, defense and tourism, according to the Qatar Tribune.

The newspaper quoted the Philippines trade and industry secretary as saying the deals were worth more than $200 million.

Ramon Lopez added that there is also the possibility of a new investment agreement of up to $1 billion with Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.

Huge crowd

On Saturday, Duterte rallied a crowd of more than 7,000 OFWs at the Lusail multipurpose hall, starting off by crooning a duet with local singer Hanna Uddin.

Balitang Q/Facebook

OFWs cheer for President Duterte during his first Qatar visit

GMA News reports that during the hour-long talk, the official reiterated his tough stance against the illegal drug trade in his country.

Duterte also reportedly again attacked former US President Barack Obama, boasting that he was the only one to have the guts to insult him.

Meanwhile he praised current President Donald Trump, also a populist leader, as a “realist” and “pragmatic thinker.”

Qatar was the last stop for Duterte, who also visited Saudi Arabia and Bahrain this week, before heading home.

‘Follow the rules’

More than 260,000 Filipinos now live in Qatar, and the majority of those who voted in the recent elections supported Duterte.

However, while many expats had been hoping the official would push for improved rights in Qatar, he did not speak much about this during his trip.

3dom/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Instead, he implored OFWs in Qatar to remember that their host country is “taking care” of them. And he urged residents to keep in mind, “There are rules to be followed. Just follow the rules.”

He also reportedly told Qatari businessmen during a meeting on Saturday:

“Qatar is a very important country for us as it protects the national interest of Philippines. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos work here. We are ready to send more workforce if required.”

Thoughts?

Eric Esquivel/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

It’s been a year and a half since a group of Qataris were taken hostage in Iraq, and a lot of money is being spent to try to secure their release.

According to the Associated Press, some US$2 million was recently paid by a member of Qatar’s ruling family to make that happen.

The hostages include more than two dozen people, who were taken near Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia during a hunting trip in December 2015.

Al Gannas/Twitter

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A Qatari citizen and an Asian colleague were freed in April last year. But there has been no news since of the other hostages, some of whom are believed to be children.

The AP reports that the multi-million dollar payment was made to a private company last month by Khalifa bin Fahed bin Mohammed Al Thani.

Darknet

Citing documents obtained from the U.S. Justice Department, AP said that Al Thani signed a contract with San Diego-based Global Strategies Council Inc.

The contract calls for the company to obtain “proof of life” and speak to government agencies.

The firm must also “attempt to negotiate with captors for the release of captive members of the royal family of Qatar,” AP reported.

Adib Roy / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only

In recent weeks, Global Strategies has apparently funded hackers to begin an internet campaign to help bring about the hostages’ release.

Part of its strategy involves the launch of a website on the “darknet,” a part of the internet accessible only with anonymity-providing tools that is often used by criminals.

photosteve101/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

According to AP, the website apparently asks: “Do you have a tip worth 25 million euro?”

The company has also apparently posted a message on social media, saying:

“We understand money will always be a part of any equation. There is ALWAYS room for negotiation regarding any detail.”

Al Thani, who is the chairman of KBF Trading and Contracting Co. in Doha, did not respond to AP’s requests for comment.

Qatar’s Government Communications Office (GCO) meanwhile said that the American firm was “retained by a Qatari citizen acting in a private capacity.”

Government efforts

No group has ever claimed responsibility for the abduction. But there is speculation that Shia militants in southern Iraq were behind it.

Qatar’s government has not publicly admitted to paying any ransoms.

But in a statement to AP, the GCO said that it “considers the hostage issue in Iraq of the utmost importance” and that it remains the government’s top priority.

“We continue to engage in securing their safe release,” GCO added.

Thoughts?