BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister says "friendly" neighboring countries have been contacted over the fate of Qatari ruling family members and others kidnapped in late 2015, adding that a Qatari official is in the country "to help in their release."
Haider al-Abadi's comments late Tuesday came as suspicion over the December 2015 kidnappings has fallen on Shiite militias, suggesting Iraq may have reached out to Iran to secure their release.
"We asked all friendly countries to Iraq and neighboring countries to Iraq to cooperate with us to find these kidnapped individuals," al-Abadi told journalists.
Al-Abadi also said Qatar's non-resident ambassador had come to Iraq to help in securing the captives' freedom. A Qatari aircraft used by the small, energy-rich country's ruling family has been in Baghdad since Saturday.
Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on al-Abadi's comments.
The abduction took place at dawn on Dec. 16, 2015, at a desert camp near the Saudi border in the southern Muthanna province, some 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of the capital, Baghdad. Gunmen kidnapped some two dozen Qataris and support staff who taking part in a falconry hunt. In April 2016, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said one of the hunters and "his Asian companion" were freed, but no word of the hostages has been made public since.
Muthanna is a predominantly Shiite province and is not a region where the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group are known to operate.
The Associated Press reported last week that a Qatari ruling family member paid $2 million in an effort involving hackers to secure the hostages' release.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.