01/25/2020, 15.35
IRAQ
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Four members of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient go missing in Baghdad, probably abducted

Three Frenchmen and one Iraqi man linked to a Christian charity went missing on Monday, last seen near the French embassy in Baghdad. No ransom or claim have been made. The four are “experienced staff members who have been working with us for years,” said the charity’s director.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Four men working in Iraq for SOS Chretiens d'Orient (SOS Eastern Christians), a French Christian charity, have been missing since Monday, the charity announced yesterday afternoon

The four, three Frenchmen and one Iraqi, were last seen near the French Embassy in Baghdad.

No ransom demand has been received as yet and no group has claimed responsibility for their disappearance, the organisation's director Benjamin Blanchard said.

The missing workers, who were in Baghdad "to renew their visas and register the association with Iraqi authorities,” were “experienced staff members who have been working with us for years,” Blanchard explained.

Kidnappings of foreigners have become rare in Iraq in recent years. In the past, they were targeted by groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group, as well as Iran-backed militias and criminal organisations.

SOS Chrétiens d’Orient has been in Iraq since the second half of 2014 when IS began its rise in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. It helped tens of thousands of displaced people, Christians and Yazidis, forced to flee Mosul and the Nineveh Plain when these areas were overrun by IS.

Today the charity’s work is centred in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where many Christian families have found refuge and still live after almost six years.

The four men left their hotel by car for a meeting, “which posed no problem,” Blanchard said.

When they did not return, the charity contacted French authorities early Wednesday. Since then, French and Iraqi authorities have been working together to locate them.

For security reasons and to protect the men’s safety, their names have not been made public. For their part, French authorities have imposed a news blackout.

The abduction comes at a crucial time for Iraq. Tens of thousands of people, over a million according to some, took to the streets yesterday in response to an appeal by radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who is calling for the expulsion of US troops from Iraq.

This protest was separate from anti-government protests that have been going for months in the capital.

Iraq’s domestic troubles have been complicated by international tensions, in particular the head-on collision between the United States and Iran, in both Iraq and elsewhere.

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