Three French aid workers from the NGO SOS Chrétiens d'Orient and an Iraqi collaborator disappeared in Baghdad on Monday, the humanitarian organization said.
No ransom note
The four men “disappeared around the French embassy,” said Benjamin Blanchard, director general of the NGO, which helps eastern Christians, in Paris. “No ransom demand” has been made, he added during a press conference.
“They have a perfect understanding of the crises. They are experienced employees who have worked with us for years,” “he added.
Authorities were “warned on Wednesday,” according to the official, who did not disclose the identities of the four men.
“They disappeared in Baghdad in the city center near the French embassy. They had to carry out administrative work in Baghdad. They were there to renew their visa and register the association with the Iraqi authorities, the director added. They had left their hotel by car which “is one of the establishments which regularly receive international staff”, according to him.
The existence of a “security plan”
They also had to “monitor the operations of the association, including the opening of our new school in Baghdad”. The organization had acted “in perfect coordination with the consular authorities for the organization of this mission”, assured the director, adding that the four men, “in good health”, have “a perfect knowledge of the crisis zones”.
“The French and Iraqi authorities are coordinating today to investigate and find their traces,” he said, adding that he was “in close contact” with the families.
The NGO said that in 2015, it had implemented a “security plan” audited by experts. “The procedures are updated and audited three times a year” and “the staff undergo compulsory training”, according to the director.
Demonstrations for several months
The NGO presents itself as a humanitarian association helping “Eastern Christians to stay at home”. It carried out its first mission in Syria in 2013, then in Iraq in April 2014, before opening the same year in Baghdad a permanent mission. Its officials, anchored very to the right, have sometimes been deemed complacent towards the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Requested by AFP, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs made no comment, any more than the French Embassy in Baghdad.
Baghdad has been plagued by protests for several months, some against the government and influence of Iran, and others, more recently, against the presence of American troops in Iraq after the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, killed in Badgad in early January in a drone attack.