BAGHDAD, Dec 16, (AFP): Gunmen kidnapped at least 26 Qatari hunters in southern Iraq, officials said on Wednesday, the second high-profile abduction of foreigners in the country in three months. Turkey, which like Qatar is at odds with various Iraqi groups over regional issues, had 18 of its citizens abducted in Iraq in early September. They were eventually released unharmed. Dozens of gunmen “kidnapped 27 Qatari hunters… when they were in a camp near the Bassiyah area,” Faleh al- Zayadi, the governor of Muthanna province where they were seized, told AFP. “All of those kidnapped are Qatari and a number of members of the ruling family in Qatar are among them,” Zayadi said, adding that the kidnappers used more than 50 vehicles mounted with machine guns.
Two Iraqi officers providing security for the party were also taken but later released, he said. Other officials put the number of people kidnapped at 26. “Twenty-six Qatari hunters were kidnapped at about 3:00 am (0000 GMT) by unknown gunmen,” a police major from Muthanna said.
A local council member from the province gave the same number, saying that the kidnappers were in dozens of pick-up trucks. Qatar’s foreign ministry has contacted the Iraqi government to obtain “details about the kidnapping of the Qatari citizens and to work to release them as quickly as possible”, it said in a statement carried by the official QNA news agency.
Assistant Foreign Minister for Political Affairs, Mohammed al-Rumaihi, has been dispatched to Baghdad to coordinate with Iraqi authorities “to ensure the safety of the Qatari nationals”, it said. The hunters entered Iraq with an “official permit” from the interior ministry, the Qatari statement said. 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 restricting the killing of certain species that they face at home.