Qatari hostages return home after 16-month captivity
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.
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.
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.