Three French and one Iraqi, who disappeared on January 20. France expresses "gratitude" to the Iraqi authorities for contributing to the release. No confirmation of payment of a ransom. Due to the coronavirus emergency, Macron withdraws French troops from the country.
Baghdad (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The kidnapping of four operators from the non-governmental organization Sos Cristiani d’Oriente, three French and one Iraqi, on January 20 last has had a happy ending. A note released late yesterday by the Elysée confirms that the activists have been freed after just over two months in captivity and are in good condition.
In recent weeks, several Iraqi Christian leaders, including the archbishop of Erbil, Msgr. Bashar Warda, had launched appeals and promoted prayers for their release.
Their release comes just a few hours after the announcement made by President Emmanuel Macron, who that France would be withdrawing troops from Iraq due to the coronavirus emergency. The head of state, reads a note, "welcomes release of the three compatriots: Antoine Brochon, Julien Dittmar, Alexandre Goodarzy" and their Iraqi collaborator "Tariq Mattoka".
At the time of the kidnapping, the French authorities, in agreement with the leaders of Baghdad, had kept the identity of the kidnapped secret and protected the activity of Sos Cristiani d'Oriente in the region, which has been on the front lines in helping and supporting the population, especially the Christian minority. Macron, adds the note, "expresses his gratitude to the Iraqi authorities for their collaboration".
The French - and Iraqi - authorities have decided to maintain strict confidentiality regarding the kidnapping and release. They have neither confirmed nor denied the payment of a ransom. Last week the Christian NGO, active in the country since 2014, said that no group, after two months, had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and no requests for money had been received for the release of the four.
The kidnapping had taken place in a context of profound political turbulence in the Arab country. At the beginning of the year, on several occasions, tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets - welcoming an invitation from the radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr – demanding the expulsion of US troops from Iraq.
These were separate demonstrations to the anti-government protests which have been taking place since October of last year against corruption and malfeasance.
Added to this are the international tensions, in particular the head-on collision between the US and Iran which is (also) being played out even today on Iraqi territory.