#OpFOQ: All 26 Hostages Freed

As reported in the international media (CNN, BBC), all twenty-six Qatari hostages held in Iraq since December 2015 were released from Iraq today.

The Qatari hostages have been the subject of a social media campaign to bring attention to their plight that is known as “OpFOQ,” a campaign that this website started to report on from the day it was launched in March 2017.

The Qatari hostages, some of whom are members of the Al Thani royal family, which rules Qatar, were taken hostage in southern Iraq in December 2015 and were thought to be held by “Kata’eb Hezbollah, one of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ main proxies in Iraq, whose former leader, Akram al-Ka’abi, has led Iranian-backed militias in Syria,” as reported in the Guardian.

The hostages became a part of the ongoing negotiations to relieve innocent civilians in war-ravaged Syria. Those talks have continued for two years and have been brokered by outside powers that included Qatar, Iran, and Lebanon. In recent weeks, an agreement was hammered out to move residents in two Shi’a areas, Fua and Kefraya, in northern Syria, by bus to east Aleppo, and then to Shi’a-controlled areas of Syria and then move residents in two Sunni-controlled towns, Zabadani and Madaya, which are near the capital of Damascus, to rebel-held areas.

Iran is the dominant power in that part of the world that is majority Shi’a. Hezbollah, the regional power based in Lebanon, is Shi’a. Qatar and its ruling family, the Al Thani dynasty, are Sunni. The Qatari hostages include members of the Al Thani royal family.

Thus, a desire to relieve suffering led to an agreement that was made possible in part by a desire to clean up some details in the relations among the region’s powers: if the twenty-six men could be freed and restored to their families, good faith would have true action behind it.

One of the bus convoys was bombed on April 15, killing 126 individuals. The agreement was held to, nonetheless, although it took several extra days: a Qatari airplane sent to Baghdad to collect the hostages sat on the tarmac in Baghdad for four days.

The hostages are on their way home as of this writing.

* * * *
Some background about the hostages:

The Qataris and several other nationals were kidnapped in December 2015, and since April 2016, when two of the hostages were freed, the missing men have been absent from the world’s headlines and attention as well, despite the fact that a handful of the hostages are members of the royal family of Qatar. Families are missing sons, brothers, husbands, fathers. The men were not taken by an official government entity, so groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been bystanders as the mystery deepened each day.

The men were sportsmen—falconers—who crossed the Saudi Arabian-Iraqi border with government-issued permits and their birds, and they set up camp in Iraq’s remote southern province, Al Muthanna. December is training season for the falcons because December is the breeding season for the houbara bustard, a turkey-like bird found in Central Asia that the falcons hunt.

Thus, a large falconry party of twenty-seven men and the birds they were training seen in that part of the world in December is nothing out of the ordinary. What followed was.

Al Muthanna is desert, sparsely populated, and only nominally governed by the politicians in Baghdad. The Imam al-Ali Brigade of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, an Iran-backed Shi’a paramilitary force, controls much of the desert region of southern and western Iraq, where the kidnapping took place.

Between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. on the night of December 16, 2015, while the group slept, a convoy of about 100 armed men in pickup trucks and vans descended on the hunting party’s camp, near Busaya in the Samawa desert, and took the entire group hostage. Not a shot was fired. The hunters who were taken hostage were almost all from Qatar, among them six members of the Qatari royal family, the Al Thani family. The fate of the falcons remains unknown.

No group claimed responsibility in the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping, and nine hostages were released or escaped within days—one Kuwaiti, two Saudis and six Qataris. None of the nine were members of the ruling Al Thani family of Qatar; all were servants of or helpers to the falconry party.

Ransom notes appeared in the Iraqi media every so often, but their veracity was usually questioned. It appears that the hostages are to be used as “bargaining chips in negotiations to secure the release detainees held by armed factions in Syria,” but the incident took place fifteen months ago.

The hostages were thought to be held in small groups scattered among small villages near Basra, Iraq. Since the night of the kidnapping, December 16, 2015, only two hostages have been released: one member of the Al Thani family and a Pakistani aide who were both freed in April 2016.

This terrible adventure came to an end for the hostages April 21, 2017.

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3 comments

  1. Relax... · April 21

    Awesome! I pray it’s true. Thank you for the update!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · April 22

      It is true. One piece of good news that may (or may not) contribute to other stories I have been covering here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Relax... · April 22

        Thank God, thank God. 🙂 And you, and the others who are peacefully agitating for release of all non-criminals.

        Liked by 1 person

Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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