Four Abducted SOS Chrétiens d’Orient Volunteers Released

French President Emmanuel Macron announces the news the day after his government announced it was withdrawing French troops from Iraq.

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Four volunteers working for SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, a French Catholic charity helping persecuted Christians, have been released two months after being abducted in Iraq. 

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron announced the news on Thursday.

Frenchmen Antoine Brochon, Julien Dittmar, Alexandre Goodarzy and Iraqi Tariq Mattoka, disappeared in Baghdad on Jan. 20. 

No group has claimed responsibility for their abduction, RFI reported, and SOS Chretiens d’Orient says no ransom has been received.

News of the release came a day after France announced it was withdrawing its 200 troops from Iraq due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a brief statement, the French presidency said France had made “every effort to reach this outcome,” adding: “The President of the Republic expresses his gratitude to the Iraqi authorities for their cooperation.” No further details were given. 

SOS Chrétiens d'Orient, staffed by mostly young volunteers, thanked its supporters in a tweet for their “incredible outpouring of prayer and solidarity brought about by the announcement of these disappearances.” 

In a further tweet they “warmly thanked the French authorities for their work, as well as the Iraqi authorities.”

The four volunteers, all experienced members of the charity, were in the Iraqi capital to renew their visas and had just left their Baghdad hotel by car when they went missing.

When they did not return, the charity contacted French authorities and began working with them and the Iraqi government to locate the four. 

The abduction came when tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets in response to an appeal by radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who was calling for the expulsion of US troops from Iraq. 

The kidnapping also took place amid anti-government protests and shortly after clashes between the US and Iran on Iraqi soil. 

In Iraq since the second half of 2014, SOS Chrétiens d’Orient helped Christians and Yazidis in Iraq during and after the ISIS invasion of the northern part of the country, as well as in neighbouring Syria. 

The charity’s Iraqi base is in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where many Christian families found refuge after the ISIS invasion and where many remain today.

Founded at Christmas in Syria in 2013, SOS Chrétiens d’Orient’s work consists not only of “solidarity in sending goods and money, which is very good,” founder Benjamin Blanchard told the Register in 2017, “but also to be very close with them and to pray together. 

“It is very important not only to help people, but to live with people and pray with them,” he said.  

As well as Iraq and Syria, the charity works in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan and Armenia.