Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

26 hostages, including Qatari royals, free

26 hostages, including Qatari royals, free

The group of Qataris, which included members of Qatar's royal family, were abducted by gunmen in late 2015 while on a hunting trip in southern Iraq near the Saudi border.

An Iraqi security official later said Iraq would hand over the 26 hostages to Qatar's ambassador to Baghdad.

Iraqi officials said they had "received" the group of Qatari "hunters".

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

The release of the remaining hostages comes days after a deal was announced for the evacuation of civilians and fighters from four besieged Syrian towns.

Shiite militias are active in that area and work closely with neighboring Shiite power Iran. They apparently had permits to hunt in that area inside Muthanna province, about 230 miles southeast of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Qatar, a member of the US -led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, denies supporting extremist groups.

The release of the Qatari hunters follows a similar pattern to that in 2015 of 18 Turkish workers, who were freed as part of a deal that also saw the lifting of sieges on Shia villages in northern Syria. The group officially denies it was behind the kidnapping and no other group has publicly claimed responsibility for the abduction. "It's completely humanitarian and has nothing to do with Qatari hostages in Iraq".

Ten buses carrying scores of locals from the rebel besieged towns of al-Fu'ah and Kafraya entered government-held Aleppo following a delay of about 48 hours, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the group, told the AP that the population swap in Syria was directly tied to the issue of the kidnapped Qataris.

The AP reported last week that a Qatari ruling family member paid $2 million in an effort involving hackers to secure the release of the hostages.

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