DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — One of the some two dozen Qatari hunters kidnapped in Iraq this December has been freed along with an Asian who had accompanied the trip, the peninsular nation's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Authorities offered no details regarding their release, and did not give any clue as to which group was behind the mass abduction in Iraq's Muthana province, some 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of the capital, Baghdad.
"Efforts are still ongoing to free the rest of the 26 kidnapped," the Foreign Ministry statement said, adding that it expressed "Qatar's hope that these efforts will be crowned with success."
Qatari government officials declined to elaborate. Iraq's Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gunmen stormed the desert camp near the Saudi border used by the falconry hunters at dawn on Dec. 16, kidnapping those there. Their identities remain unclear, though a December statement by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the kidnapped included children.
Hunters from Gulf states, mainly Qatar, visit Iraq's vast western and southern desert areas for hunting and purchasing falcons. Iraqi authorities approve the expeditions and offer local police officers as guards, though the Iraqi Interior Ministry previously accused the hunters of not following their instructions and going into unsecured areas.
While Iraq and a U.S.-led coalition battle the Islamic State group in other parts of the country, the predominantly Shiite province of Muthana remains under the control of the nation's central government.
Qatar is seen by Iraqis as a main supporter of Sunni militants, such as the Islamic State group. Qatar strongly denies supporting extremist groups, including Islamic State militants, and is part of the U.S.-led coalition battling its fighters.
Kidnappings for ransom also plague Iraq and the hunters may have proven a tempting target because they come from oil-and-gas-rich Qatar.
Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jon-gambrell .
This story has been corrected to show the kidnapping happened in Muthana province, not Samawah province.