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French Christian charity workers freed in Iraq two months after disappearing

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Benjamin Blanchard (R), director general SOS Chretiens d'Orient during a press conference in Paris on January 24, 2020 after four employees went missing in Iraq.
Benjamin Blanchard (R), director general SOS Chretiens d'Orient during a press conference in Paris on January 24, 2020 after four employees went missing in Iraq.   -   Copyright  THOMAS SAMSON/AFP
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Three French nationals and an Iraqi who work for a Christian charity have been released in Iraq more than two months after being taken hostage, the French Presidency announced on Thursday night.

"The President of the Republic welcomes the release of our three nationals Antoine Brochon, Julien Dittmar, Alexandre Goodarzu and Iraqi Tariq Mattoka," the Elysee said in a statement.

"France made every effort to reach this outcome. The President of the Republic expresses gratitude to the Iraqi authorities for their cooperation," it went on, without mentioning where or by whom they had been held.

The four men who work for SOS Chrétiens d'Orient — a charity dedicated to Christians in the Middle East — disappeared on January 20 in Baghdad where they had gone to carry out administrative tasks including extending their visas.

Their disappearance came at a time of heightened tensions in the country with regular demonstrations protesting the US drone killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

The NGO described them at the time as "four experienced employees, in good health and with perfect knowledge of crisis areas", adding that no group had claimed responsibility and that no ransom demand had been made.

Their release comes just a day after France announced it was temporarily putting an end to its military activities in the country and withdrawing its troops.