Two Qatari hunters who endured a 16-month hostage ordeal in Iraq spoke Sunday of their joy at being released, in the first public comments since the group were freed.
Mohammed Marzouki was among 24 Qataris and two Saudis who were on a hunting trip in a mainly Shiite area of southern Iraq when they were kidnapped in late 2015.
They flew back to Doha on Friday following their release under a complex regional deal linked to the Syrian civil war.
“When I saw the lights of Doha, I felt like life was beginning again -- my happiness is indescribable,” Marzouki told the local Arabic daily newspaper, Al-Sharq.
“My joy at returning to the homeland is a feeling that cannot be described in words.”
A fellow hostage, Khalid bin Dhafer Al-Dosari, told the same newspaper that “all our aches and pains disappeared once we reached our homeland”.
The hunting party, believed to include prominent members of the Qatari royal family, were captured in mid-December 2015 and held captive until they were freed on Friday.
There was never any claim of responsibility for the kidnapping of the hunters, who were widely believed to have been taken by militias with close ties to Tehran.
While the terms of the group’s release have not been made public, it has been reported that Qatar paid millions in ransom to secure their freedom.
After flying home on Friday, the hunters were met at Doha’s Hamad International Airport by the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
The release deal was linked to the evacuation of thousands of people from the Syrian government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya, long besieged by rebels.
The evacuations marked the end of the first stage of a deal brokered by rebel backer Qatar and regime ally Iran.
Wealthy citizens of Sunni Gulf states venture to countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq to hunt with falcons without the bag limits and conservation measures they face at home.