Qatari pays USD 2M to try to free royals abducted in Iraq

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Qatari pays USD 2M to try to free royals abducted in Iraq

Dubai, Apr 11 (AP) A member of Qatar’s ruling family has paid USD 2 million to a Greek shoe salesman’s firm to secure “proof of life” and ultimately free relatives and others kidnapped in Iraq over year ago, presumably by Shiite militiamen.

The payment, disclosed in US Justice Department documents examined by The Associated Press, shed new light on the opaque world of private hostage negotiation in the Middle East in a case that now involves hackers, encrypted internet communication and promises of millions of dollars in ransom payments.

The rare disclosure suggests Qatar could be trying to be more transparent with Washington, its main Western ally. The energy-rich country has long faced allegations of not doing enough to stop money from reaching Islamic extremists, including those fighting alongside the rebels in Syria.

“I just wonder if this is some way of twisting Qatar’s arm to try to break off its funding, supplies and so on to these sorts of groups,” said Christopher Davidson, a professor of Middle East politics at Durham University in Britain. “For them still to be missing all this time indicates it’s not just about money.”

The Qatari, Khalifa bin Fahed bin Mohammed Al Thani, signed a contract dated March 8 with a San Diego-based firm called Global Strategies Council Inc., according to documents filed to the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The contract called for a USD 2 million payment upfront, a large sum that’s rare among other organisations filing these disclosures.

The contract calls for the group “to obtain proof of life”, speak to government agencies and “attempt to negotiate with captors for the release of captive members of the royal family of Qatar”.

Though not naming the Qataris held, the documents provide the first Qatari acknowledgement that those kidnapped included ruling family members.

Al Thani, the chairman of KBF Trading and Contracting Co.

in Doha, did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked about the USD 2 million payment, Qatar’s Government Communications Office issued a statement to the AP saying the US firm was “retained by a Qatari citizen acting in a private capacity”.

“We consider the hostage issue in Iraq of utmost importance and it remains our top priority,” the government said. “We continue to engage in securing their safe release.” The December 16, 2015 abduction happened at dawn at a desert camp near the Saudi border in the southern Muthanna province, some 370 kilometres southeast of the capital, Baghdad. Gunmen kidnapped some two dozen Qataris and support staff who were taking part in a falconry hunt. In April 2016, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said one of the hunters and “his Asian companion” were freed, but no word of the hostages has been made public since. The United Nations has said children were among those seized.

Iraqi officials say they have no new information about the kidnapping, but suspicion has fallen on Shiite militias.

Muthanna is a predominantly Shiite province and is not a region where the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group are known to operate. AP

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.