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High-profile Qatari hunting party freed after 17 months

An image grab taken from a handout video released by the Iraqi Interior Ministry on April 21, 2017, shows Qatari men who were kidnapped while hunting in southern Iraq in 2015 boarding a plane. Photograph: (AFP)

AFP Baghdad, Baghdad Governorate, Iraq Apr 21, 2017, 06.20 PM (IST)

A Qatari hunting party, which reportedly includes one or several prominent members of the royal family, was flown back to Doha after months of captivity, Iraqi officials confirmed.

The 26-strong party, who were on a licenced hunting trip to nab Asian houbara bustard, was abducted in southern Iraq in mid-December 2015, BBC reported.

Their release comes days as part of a complex deal that includes evacuation of four besieged towns in Syria.

"The interior ministry has received the Qatari hunters, all 26 of them," the minister's adviser, Wahab al-Taee. "They will be handed over to the Qatari envoy."

Footage released by the Iraqi interior ministry showed some of the former hostages wearing white gowns and red head scarves as they were greeted by officials in Baghdad's "Green Zone", where the country's main institutions are based.

Some of them could be seen later in the video boarding a Qatar Airways plane at Baghdad airport and state media later confirmed they had landed in Doha.

"Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, received Qatari nationals who were kidnapped in the Republic of Iraq on arrival at Doha International Airport this evening, " read the statement released by the Qatar News Agency.

The statement gave no details about their detention.

Very little is known about where the abductees were held and in what condition.

But a Guardian report suggests the hunting group was held captive by an Iraqi militia known to have close links with Iran.

(WION with inputs from AFP)

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