EXCLUSIVE: Iran-backed militias 'kidnapped’ French journalists in Baghdad during US embassy attack

Tehran-backed militiamen kidnapped a journalist and a photojournalist, both reportedly French nationals, as they attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, three informed sources told Kurdistan 24 on Thursday.
author_image Kosar Nawzad

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Tehran-backed militiamen kidnapped a journalist and a photojournalist, both reportedly French nationals, as they attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, three informed sources told Kurdistan 24 on Thursday.

The two French journalists, whose names the sources shared with Kurdistan 24, were released Thursday morning. This came after mediation efforts by the outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi and Falih al-Fayyadh, National Security Advisor and chief of the Hashd al-Shaabi militias, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

Fighters and supporters of factions within the PMF “kidnapped” the two persons—whose names the sources shared with Kurdistan 24—in front of the US embassy on Tuesday. One source said an ambulance belonging to the PMF took the two French journalists to “an unknown destination.”

A second source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the emergency vehicle belonged to the Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) militia.

Another source said that abductors released the two French nationals under pressure from Abdul Mahdi and indicated that Fayyadh had also intervened to ensure they were let go.

“The two French journalists came out in good health,” the source added.

In a statement later on Thursday, Abdul-Mahdi’s office confirmed both the abductions and releases by saying in a statement that he received a phone call from French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who “thanked the Iraqi government’s efforts to release the two French journalists who were kidnapped on Tuesday.”

The incident came as major Iran-aligned groups stormed the American compound inside the usually heavily fortified Green Zone, torching parts of the building. The controlled confrontation continued on Wednesday as US troops fired tear gas into the crowds, which included supporters, members, and, at times, leaders of the PMF to disperse them.

Read More: US troops fire tear gas to disperse militia supporters at embassy in Baghdad

The gathering was in response to a US operation that struck five KH facilities near the Iraqi-Syrian border, killing at least 25 fighters and wounding over 50 others, according to reports. This was the culmination of months-long building of tensions as militia groups launched multiple attacks on Iraqi military bases hosting American troops.

The latest such attack targeted the K-1 base, located outside the disputed city of Kirkuk, killing a US civilian contractor and wounding several Iraqi and American soldiers. US President Donald Trump said he held Iran directly responsible for the attack and accused KH militias of being the perpetrator.

Read More: US: Strikes on Kata’ib Hizbollah aim to deter Iranian aggression

The US deployed additional troops to Iraq to prevent further attacks on the US embassy. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday that there were “some indications” that Iran and its proxy groups in Iraq “may be planning additional attacks,” Reuters reported.

“If that happens then we will act and by the way, if we get word of attacks or some type indication, we will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces to protect American lives,” Esper stated.

Iran and the West have been locked in tensions as Tehran continues violating critical terms of the 2015 nuclear accord after the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the deal and reinstitution of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. 

Editing by John J. Catherine

(Note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that the two journalists were employed by the Associated Press.)