It’s been a year and a half since a group of Qataris were taken hostage in Iraq, and a lot of money is being spent to try to secure their release.
According to the Associated Press, some US$2 million was recently paid by a member of Qatar’s ruling family to make that happen.
The hostages include more than two dozen people, who were taken near Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia during a hunting trip in December 2015.
A Qatari citizen and an Asian colleague were freed in April last year. But there has been no news since of the other hostages, some of whom are believed to be children.
The AP reports that the multi-million dollar payment was made to a private company last month by Khalifa bin Fahed bin Mohammed Al Thani.
Citing documents obtained from the U.S. Justice Department, AP said that Al Thani signed a contract with San Diego-based Global Strategies Council Inc.
The contract calls for the company to obtain “proof of life” and speak to government agencies.
The firm must also “attempt to negotiate with captors for the release of captive members of the royal family of Qatar,” AP reported.
In recent weeks, Global Strategies has apparently funded hackers to begin an internet campaign to help bring about the hostages’ release.
Part of its strategy involves the launch of a website on the “darknet,” a part of the internet accessible only with anonymity-providing tools that is often used by criminals.
According to AP, the website apparently asks: “Do you have a tip worth 25 million euro?”
The company has also apparently posted a message on social media, saying:
“We understand money will always be a part of any equation. There is ALWAYS room for negotiation regarding any detail.”
Al Thani, who is the chairman of KBF Trading and Contracting Co. in Doha, did not respond to AP’s requests for comment.
Qatar’s Government Communications Office (GCO) meanwhile said that the American firm was “retained by a Qatari citizen acting in a private capacity.”
No group has ever claimed responsibility for the abduction. But there is speculation that Shia militants in southern Iraq were behind it.
Qatar’s government has not publicly admitted to paying any ransoms.
But in a statement to AP, the GCO said that it “considers the hostage issue in Iraq of the utmost importance” and that it remains the government’s top priority.
“We continue to engage in securing their safe release,” GCO added.