Twenty-six hostages, including members of Qatar's ruling family, were released Friday after 16 months in captivity in Iraq, two Iraqi officials said, in what had become one of the region's most complex hostage negotiations.
"The Interior Ministry received all the 26 Qatari hunters, and is checking their IDs and passports and taking their fingerprints and they would be handed over to Qatar's embassy", Wahab al-Taa'i, an Interior Ministry advisor told reporters. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
The satellite channel gave no further details on the release of the hostages, who were seized by gunmen in December 2015 while on a hunting trip near the border with Saudi Arabia.
The abduction sparked more than a year of negotiations between Iran, Qatar and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, resulting in millions of pounds in payments to Sunni and Shiite factions.
Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The release of the Qatari hunters follows a similar pattern to that in 2015 of 18 Turkish workers, who were freed as part of a deal that also saw the lifting of sieges on Shiite villages in northern Syria.
An Iraqi security official said Iraq was verifying the identity of the men and would hand them over to Qatar's ambassador to Baghdad.
"Qatari citizens came to Iraq with official visas granted by the former Interior Minister and they should have been under the protection of the Interior Ministry specifically, but unfortunately they were kidnapped in [the predominantly Shia] Muthanna province", Abadi said.
This money was to be split between three groups, including the Iraqi militia group Keta'eb Hezbollah.
On Friday, ten buses carrying scores of locals from the rebel besieged towns of al-Fu'ah and Kafraya entered government-held Aleppo following a delay of about 48 hours, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported. The group denies that it was behind the kidnapping.
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