BAGHDAD: Three U.S. citizens who were kidnapped in Baghdad last month have been released, an official in Iraq’s Interior Ministry and a senior government source said on Tuesday.
Unknown gunmen seized the trio from a private apartment in the capital’s southeasterly Dora district in mid-January.
U.S. and Iraqi sources said at the time that they were being held by an Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia, though Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi later dismissed the likelihood of Iranian involvement.
“The three Americans were released in an area near Yousifiya, south of Baghdad. Intelligence forces received them and will hand them over to the American authorities (in Baghdad)”, an official in the interior minister’s office told Reuters.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to comment immediately on the reports but a U.S. government source confirmed the release.
The three men are employed by a small company that is doing work for General Dynamics Corp, under a larger contract with the U.S. Army, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The Iraqi government has struggled to rein in the Shi’ite militias, many of which fought the U.S. military following the 2003 invasion and have previously been accused of killing and abducting American nationals.
Some analysts believe the kidnappings were meant to embarrass and weaken Abadi, who is trying to balance Iraq’s relations with rival powers Iran and the United States.
The names of two of the men are Wael al-Mahdawy and Amro Mohammed, according to a source familiar with the matter. The name of the third man has not been made available.