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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?

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?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

michael davis-burchat/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

As winter closes in across the Middle East, several Qatar charities are preparing to provide urgent humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Iraq.

According to UNHCR, some 4.8 million Syrian refugees have fled their country in the past five years. And a further 8.7 million people are predicted to be displaced within Syria itself in 2016.

Meanwhile, inside Iraq, there are currently 3.2 million displaced people, while 4 million have fled their homes.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

UN/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

At least four Qatar charities have all launched winter campaigns for donations. The money raised will help provide food, clothes, blankets and shelter to refugees during the harsh cold months.

They are the Qatar Red Crescent Society (QRCS), Eid Charity, Qatar Charity and RAF.

In a statement, QRCS Secretary-General Ali Hassan Al-Hammadi said:

“While we are safe in our homes, we should never forget those homeless and destitute widows, orphans, elderlies, and patients who lost their homes and livelihoods.

They are in dire need of help as the cold winter approaches, and we also need to put an end to their pain, so that we may deserve blessings and reward from God.”

Here’s some information on how to help:

Qatar Red Crescent Society

During its “Warm Winter” campaign, QRCS will provide aid to 206,000 people with a total budget of QR10 million.

The money will cover main necessities such as warm winter clothing, blankets, electric heaters, fuel and covers.

The provisions will go to people in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and displaced refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

The Qatar Red Crescent says it has delivered thousands of meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

QRCS

The Qatar Red Crescent says it has delivered thousands of meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Residents can donate online or call the hotline numbers (66666364 and 66644822).

Bank transfers are also accepted to QRCS’s account no. 11111-26666-202 (IBAN: QA28QIIB000000001111126666202) at Qatar International Islamic Bank (QIIB).

Other methods include texting a donation. Mobile users may send the message “13” to:

  • 92176 to donate QR50;
  • 92966 to donate QR100;
  • 92770 to donate QR500; and
  • 92740 to donate QR1,000.

Eid Charity

This NGO is running a “Before the Cold Gets Them” campaign to help around 300,000 people in Syria and Iraq, with a total budget of QR35 million.

The charity plans to donate QR20 million to Aleppo and other provinces in Syria, and QR15 million to help those in Mosul and other affected areas in Iraq.

Some of the donations will go toward caravan shelters, food baskets, warm meals, children’s milk, tents and tent renovations.

Winter bags will also be given to adults (QR250 per person) and children (QR200). These will include: a pair of pants, coat, woolen clothes, gloves, earmuffs, hat, socks, shoes and a shawl.

Eid Charity Caravan in Syria

Eid Charity

Eid Charity Caravan in Syria

Donations can be made online to help Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Upon payment, a confirmation will be sent to the e-mail address provided.

Residents can also make payments to any of the bank accounts affiliated with the charity.

Qatar Charity

QC will launch its campaign “Below Zero” at Gulf Mall today (Nov. 29).

The initiative targets beneficiaries in Syria to help aid families during winter.

Translation: They don’t miss winter, they’re afraid of it! Public Invitation. Place: Gulf Mall, Al Gharafa. Time: 10am to 1pm, and 3:30pm to 10:30pm. 

According to Al Sharq, an exhibition that uses technology will raise refugee awareness among Qatar residents and students.

There will be cut-out designs displayed to portray the plight of Syrian families.

Donations will go toward shelter, tents, well-equipped caravans, winter clothing, blankets, food baskets, ready-made meals, water, flour, bread, medical equipment, ambulance bags, medicines and the construction and operation of hospitals.

The exhibition is open until Dec. 4.

RAF

RAF’s campaign “The Winter of Mercy: Let’s Grow Warmth in Their Hearts” is aimed at collecting QR19 million in donations to provide basic necessities to 120,000 families in Syria and Iraq.

Food baskets, winter bags, caravan shelters and medicines will be donated to those who are displaced, and to refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

According to RAF, QR11.6 billion is needed to meet the basic needs of Syrian refugees this year, with some 6 million children in need of urgent help.

There are also 6.7 million who are suffering from food insecurity.

Donations can be made online, or by sending the text message “2” to 92648 to donate QR50 to Syrian refugees, or “26” to 92648 to donate QR50 to refugees in Iraq.

Contributors may also call RAF’s hotline at 55341818.

Thoughts?