Iraq’s Interior Ministry said Wednesday it’s investigating the kidnappings of three Lebanese businessmen, who authorities believe are now being held for ransom.
The three abducted men — identified by officials as Imad al-Khatib, Nader Hmadeh and George Batrouni — were taken in Baghdad this week.
Reports said two of the men were abducted on Sunday. Later that day, a third man who’d gone to arrange for their release was also taken captive.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry confirmed the abductions Wednesday.
Kidnappings for ransom or political reasons occurred frequently in Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but have become less frequent in the last couple years.
Twenty-six members of a Royal Qatari hunting party, that were abducted in 2015 were released 16 months later in April 2017, from their camp in the Iraqi desert.
The group of falcon hunters were taken hostage by 100 Iraqi Shi’ite militiamen in December 2016, Reuters reported at the time.
Iraqi officials confirmed following the release that over the course of the year-long negotiations for the group’s return, Iran, Qatar and the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah had become involved in the talks.
Officials at Baghdad International Airport became suspicious last April when their X-ray machines could not see into 23 large bags unloaded from a Qatari plane, producing only a black image because the contents were wrapped in a special material impenetrable to detecting devices. They were further amazed when they opened the bags to discover that they contained hundreds of millions of dollars and euros in cash worth a total of $500m , says an Iraqi source.
Qatar reportedly paid up to $1bn to release members of its royal family , according to people involved in the hostage deal — one of the triggers behind Arab states’ dramatic decision to cut ties with the government in Doha.