US & Canada

Iraq: Three American citizens released after month in captivity

Iraqi army members stand guard at the entrance of the Nineveh base for liberation operations in Makhmur, about 280 kilometres (175 miles) north of the capital Baghdad, on on 11 February 2016. Image copyright AFP
Image caption The US state department praised the Iraqi army for its role in securing the Americans' release

Three American citizens who were abducted in Iraq last month have been freed and handed over to the US embassy, US and Iraqi officials say.

All three men were said to be in good health.

It is not yet clear who was behind the abduction, but officials suspect it was an Iranian-backed Shia militia.

The three men were working for a private contractor when they were abducted in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on 15 January.

It was the first such abduction of Westerners in Iraq for several years.

"The three Americans were released in an area near Yusufiya, south of Baghdad. Intelligence forces received them and will hand them over to the American authorities [in Baghdad]," an Iraqi interior ministry official told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

The US Department of State said it welcomed the news that the Iraqi government had secured the Americans' release, praising the Iraqi security forces, ministry of defence and national intelligence services for their efforts.

The Pentagon said the US military was not involved in the operation to free the men, who were due to fly out of Iraq later on Tuesday. The identities of the three men have not been made public.

The three men were reported missing last month while visiting the home of their interpreter, who was also taken, in the southern suburb of Dora.

They had been working for a construction company in the Iraqi capital.

Shia gunmen are believed to have been behind the abduction last year of a group of Turkish construction workers, who were later freed, and of a party of hunters from Qatar, a situation which is still under negotiation.

Shia militias and the Iranian military have played a major role in helping Iraqi government forces battle Islamic State (IS) militants in the country.

The US is leading a multinational coalition that is conducting air strikes on IS in Iraq and Syria, and providing training and advice to Iraqi government forces.

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