Iraq kidnappers release Qatar royal after four-month ordeal

Friday 01/04/2016
Hostages were captured during an officially licensed expedition

DOHA - A member of the Qatari royal family and a Pakistani have been released by kidnappers in Iraq after nearly four months in captivity, the Qatari foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

The pair were among more than 20 people abducted from a desert hunting party close to the Saudi border last December.

Reports at the time of the kidnapping said that those seized included members of the emirate's ruling family.

The ministry initially announced "the release of a Qatari citizen and his Asian companion who were kidnapped in Iraq."

"Efforts are still ongoing to free the rest of the 26 kidnapped," a brief statement published on the official QNA news agency said.

A foreign ministry spokesman said that negotiations were continuing with the Iraqi government to try to secure the release of the remaining hostages.

It is not known if any ransom was paid for the release of the two men freed on Wednesday.

The hostages were abducted when gunmen attacked their camp in a Shiite-majority area of southern Iraq.

Nine members of the party managed to escape and cross into nearby Kuwait.

There is widespread enmity towards the Gulf Arab states in Shiite areas of southern and central Iraq because of their support for Sunni rebels in the conflict raging in neighbouring Syria.

Iran-backed Shiite militias, which have a major presence in the region, have sent fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The hunting party was in Iraq on an officially licensed expedition and Doha has put pressure on the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to help secure the hostages' release.

Wealthy Gulf Arabs often brave the risks of travel to countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Iraq to hunt with falcons without the bag limits and conservation measures they face at home.

Their favoured prey is the houbara bustard, a large game bird once nearly hunted to extinction in the Middle East.