Fisherman return to Iran years after Somalia kidnapping

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Fourteen Iranian fishermen seized by the al-Shabaab militant group in Somalia, some as long as eight years ago, have returned home, news outlets in the Islamic Republic said Sunday.

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The fishermen were abducted in international waters near Somalia and released after “lengthy negotiations with government officials, tribal chiefs and Somali elders,” the ISNA news agency reported.

They were welcomed in a special ceremony at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Saturday night before being transported to their southern hometown of Chabahar, it added.

Their release comes almost a month after Somali police said they discovered 20 foreigners -- 14 Iranians and six Pakistanis -- near territory controlled by the militant group.

At the time, Somali police said some had been kidnapped by al-Shabaab in 2014, while others had been abducted on the southern coast of Harardhere in mid-2019.

It was unclear how they came to be released, and police provided no further details, citing an ongoing inquiry.

Reports suggested they could have been abducted by pirates and handed over to al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda that includes foreign fighters among its ranks.

Al-Shabaab, which controls swathes of rural Somalia, has been trying to overthrow the central government for 15 years, funding its insurgency through criminal activities including kidnapping and ransom.

Somalia has also been plagued by piracy for years, though attacks on maritime vessels off the coast have fallen off sharply in recent years since peaking at 176 in 2011.

In 2020, three Iranian fishermen believed to be the last hostages held by Somali pirates were freed after five years of captivity.

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