In the early morning of Wednesday December 16th 2015 at 2am around 100 armed members of the Iraqi militia descended upon the undoubtedly lavish camp of Qatari hunters and falconry enthusiasts near the Iraqi-Saudi border.
It was like a scene out of an epic film; the men descended under the cover of darkness and stormed the camp in 50 Toyota Landcruisers armed with “light and medium weapons”. So terrifying the scene must have been that the Iraqi security escort of the Qataris decided not to engage the gunmen (the Iraqi forces are well known for their valor in the face of danger).
The militia was later alleged to be the Shiite militia group Brigade of Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas – although this was reported by the venerable Egyptian paper Al-Ahram, so take that with a bit of salt.
So far the story has the makings of a bestseller; violence, danger, action, sectarianism – all things that make for an excellent Middle East news story. What made the story breaking news however, was that it was not just regular Qataris who were kidnapped, they were members of the ruling Al-Thani Family. Nine of them.
The alleged names of the kidnapped Al-Thanis are:
- Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Mohammad Al Thani
- Sheikh Nayed Bin Eid Mohammad Al Thani
- Sheikh Abdul Rahman Bin Jasem Abdul Aziz Jassem Al Thani
- Sheikh Jassem Bin Fahad Mohammad Thani Al Thani
- Sheikh Khalid Bin Jassem Fahad Mohammad Al Thani
- Sheikh Mohammad Bin Khalid Ahmad Mohammad Al Thani
- Sheikh Fahad Bin Eid Mhammad Thani Al Thani
- Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Mohammad Bin Ahmad Al Thani
- Sheikh Jabr Bin Ahmad Al Thani
The media went wild. The Emir of Qatar’s uncle is one of the hostages, sources close to the royal family revealed to Arab Insider.
CNN, BBC, Russia Today and all the major wire services (being the echo chamber that they are) had a field day, amplifying the Qatari-Iraqi tension and Sunni-Shia divide. After the initial flood of coverage, the stories slowed to a trickle as less and less information was revealed. Iraqi Security Forces even claimed to have arrested five suspects in the kidnapping on 21st December – of which nothing has been heard since their arrest.
Sources close to the Royal Al-Thani family told Arab Insider that the Shia militia were asking for millions of dollars in exchange for the royals, in addition to the release of a prominent Shia Cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was jailed in Saudi awaiting execution. In the days after we attained this insider info, the media announced this as well.
Saudi Arabia, in a display of their usual finesse, executed al-Nimr in early January anyway (along with 46 other people).
Unlike his fellow prisoners, Nimr was executed for something far worse than just blowing things up and murdering people. The Shiaa Cleric was executed for being an outspoken critic of the Saudi Government and led anti-government protests in the Eastern Province (which he had hoped would secede from Saudi – and can you blame them?)
The Al-Jazeera article that reported this makes no mention that the cleric was a big part of Qatar’s bargaining chip. This makes sense of course considering that Al-Jazeera is financed and owned, like the majority of institutions in Doha, by the Qatari government.
Since then, nothing. No news. No updates. No announcements. It has been over a month since the Qatari Royals have been kidnapped and the media seem to have conveniently forgotten about them since early/mid January.
Many questions abound; where are they? What happened to them?
The docile Qatari media, again owned and essentially operated by the Qatari government, are as silent as expected. Regional media just prints out press releases issued by various inter-governmental committees asking for Iraq to take responsibility for the kidnappings, or announcing that they are holding “discussions”.
Aside from the dubious claim that “negotiations are ongoing” (this was made before Qatar lost its biggest bargaining chip Nimr) the state of the captives remains unknown.
Other questions arise in the mind of the curious: Why did they decide to hunt in the especially volatile area amid the ever-rising tension in Saudi? This could be chalked up to the usual Qatari carelessness – as systemic and pervasive as ever.
What about the Iraqi militia, who tipped them off? How did they know that the misguided hunting party was there? And that they had royals among them? The logical conclusion points to a rat in the Iraqi security detail that was supposed to be guarding them. In addition to the apparently well known fact that Qatari royals have often frequented the area.
The most pressing question remains. What will become of the captives now that their bargaining chip is gone? Who or what else will the militia ask for?
Arab Insider will check back with its sources soon and publish insider detail as they emerge.
In the meantime, if you’ve been curious about anything going on in the Middle East and would like our team to investigate, you can contact us on email@example.com. (Yes we’re serious).