Two weeks after the kidnapping of a group of Qataris in Iraq, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has asked Baghdad to “do everything possible” to facilitate their freedom, QNA reports.
According to a statement released by the UN, the official phoned Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abbadi on Wednesday to discuss the matter:
“Mr. Ban also voiced concern at the recent abduction of a group of Qatari citizens in Iraq, including children, and urged the Prime Minister to do everything possible to ensure their prompt and safe release.”
At least 26 Qatari nationals were seized while hunting in southern Iraq on Dec. 16 by a large group of armed gunmen who broke into their camp, Reuters reported at the time.
The UN’s statement appears to be the first official report to state that children had also been kidnapped.
No group has announced responsibility for the abduction, but there is speculation that Shia militants in southern Iraq are behind it, according to the New York Times.
The newspaper also reported that Iraq’s foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, has previously denied suggestions that his government was involved in the kidnapping:
“There are security flaws that we must acknowledge, and our enemies exploited the security shortcomings,” he said.
Other top officials have also been calling for the Qataris to be freed, including Iraq’s top Shia Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who made the declaration on Friday, according to Reuters.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has also condemned the kidnapping as “shameful” and a “flagrant violation of international law and human rights,” adding that the abduction was against Islamic provisions and harmed relations between Arab countries.
Last week, the council demanded that the Iraqi government take responsibility and work to secure the hunters’ release. That position was later backed by the Arab League Council of Foreign Ministers.
Qatar’s Ministry Of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has said that the Qatari citizens had the necessary permits to enter Iraq from authorities, but Iraq’s interior ministry said that the hunters has traveled outside the secured zones.
Speaking to Doha News, MOFA has declined to comment on the issue, but QNA reports the ministry as saying that high-ranking officials are in touch with concerned entities at the highest security and political levels in Iraq to find out details about those who were abducted and are working on their immediate release.