About 100 gunmen kidnapped at least 27 Qataris — among them an undetermined number of Qatar’s ruling family — from their hunting camp in a sprawling desert area on the Iraq-Saudi Arabia borders in the early hours of Wednesday, the regional governor and police officials said.
Two police officers in Samawa confirmed the kidnappings and said security forces launched a wide-scale search for the Qataris.
“An armed group driving dozens of pick-up trucks kidnapped at least 27 Qatari hunters from their camp in the area of Busaya in Samawa desert near Saudi borders,” Samawa governor Falih al-Zayady said, according to Reuters.
Sputnik reported sources as saying the group was targeted because it contained members of the Qatar ruling family.
“Among the hunters abducted by armed militants were members of Qatar’s ruling family,” a source in the Iraqi police
said. “They come to Iraq every year in December and stay there for 30 days to hunt.”
The source said the ruling family arrived in Iraq two weeks ago.
“They come to Iraq every year in December and stay there for 30 days to hunt,” the source said.
A Samawa police colonel said the hunters were escorted by an Iraqis security force but that it decided not to engage a large number of gunmen.
“We are talking about at least 100 gunmen armed with light and medium weapons who broke into the Qatari camp and abducted the hunters around 3 am local time on Wednesday,” said the police colonel.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the mass abduction. Islamic State militants often travel in large numbers in convoys.
Another police officer said initial information suggested that the kidnappers managed to flee with the abducted hunters into a desert area near the southern province of Nassiriya, 185 miles south of Baghdad.
According to a BBC, the Qatari foreign ministry is working with the Iraqi government “at the highest security and political levels… to find out the details of the Qatari citizens’ abduction and work on their release as soon as possible.”
It said they had been hunting with official Iraqi permission.
Iraq’s interior ministry blamed the incident on the negligence of the hunters who, it said, did not follow instructions to remain inside secured areas.
The aim of the abduction was “to achieve political and media goals”, the interior ministry said.
During the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, such royal hunting trips were organized with the support of the local security services. After his overthrow, the number of trips to Iraq by Qatari hunters has decreased due to security concerns.