27 Qatari hunters kidnapped in Iraq | The Daily Star
06:29 PM, December 16, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 08:38 PM, December 16, 2015

27 Qatari hunters kidnapped in Iraq

Gunmen have kidnapped at least 27 Qatari hunters - including members of the ruling family - in a desert area of Iraq near the Saudi border, say police and the local governor.

The attackers were driving dozens of four-wheel drive vehicles when they swept into the hunters' camp at dawn on Wednesday, officials said.

They struck near Layyah, 190km (118 miles) from regional capital, Samawa.

A wide-scale search has been launched for the attackers, police say.

The Qatari foreign ministry has released a statement saying it is working with the Iraqi government to release the Qatari nationals "as soon as possible", reports Reuters news agency.

It said they had been hunting with official permission from the Iraqi interior ministry.

The remote area where the incident took place is highly tribal in nature and a Shia region, reports the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

The Shia political parties which dominate the Iraqi government are highly critical of Qatar's role in supporting Sunni rebels in Syria - so this is bound to be a serious diplomatic incident, he says.

Iraq is one of several countries frequented by Gulf Arab huntsmen and falconers as they search for prey that either does not exist in their own countries or which has been almost hunted to extinction there.

Their favoured prey is the houbara bustard, akin to a small turkey, and to find it and other similar species Gulf hunters often travel to Morocco, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

They take with them their prized falcons, typically peregrines, sakers and lanners, which are expertly trained to home in on their quarry at high speed. According to a former CIA officer, in 1998 a CIA-run sniper team in Afghanistan observed Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers gathered at a camp near Kandahar but they were ordered to take no action for risk of harming the Emirati hunters who were with them.

Other Gulf hunting expeditions have even extended as far as the Central African Republic in search of big game.

Wealthy practitioners of the ancient sport of falconry from various Gulf states often travel to the area at this time of year.

The hunters had been escorted by Iraqi security forces but they decided not to engage a large number of gunmen, a police colonel from Samawa - the capital of Muthanna governorate - told Reuters.

"We are talking about at least 100 gunmen armed with light and medium weapons," he said.

An Iraqi source told BBC Arabic that the gunmen had arrived from from the Nasiriya area.

More than 12 years after the US-led invasion and occupation, Iraq is still plagued by violent crime and militant attacks.

In September, 16 Turkish construction workers were freed a month after being kidnapped in the capital, Baghdad, apparently by Shia Muslim militants.

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