Four Russian bikers arrested in Iraq
BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photo.Four Russians decided to take a motorcycle trip in Iraq, but their adventure took a turn for the worse when they were arrested by security forces and were allegedly accused of spying and beaten.
"They entered Iraq through ... Kurdistan by motorcycles. They are bikers," Russian Ambassador Ilya Morgunov told AFP, referring to the autonomous Kurdistan region in north Iraq.
"They crossed Kurdistan and entered (the) province of Diyala. In Diyala, they were arrested," he said.
"One of them managed to contact our embassy, saying they were strongly beaten and accused (of) espionage," he said. "But they are simply ... bikers; they are not spies." Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the four bikers were initially detained on Saturday by an Iraqi military patrol and released after intervention by the Russian embassy.
They were detained for a second time on Sunday on the outskirts of Baghdad after failing to apply for the necessary travel documents.
Lukashevich said Morgunov had discussed the incident with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and received an assurance that the four would be released shortly from detention at a military base near the capital.
"We hope that this is exactly what happens," Lukashevich said.
Russian bikers have been glorified by the state media during much of President Vladimir Putin's 12-year domination of Russia.
The Russian strongman has attended functions thrown by the country's main Night Wolves club and once attended a football match in Belgrade with members of the biking associations of Serbia and other Balkan nations.
The four men's tour of the Middle East was featured in a state television report prior to their departure and their arrest gained top billing in Thursday afternoon news dispatches.
Lukashevich advised the four to return to Russia once they are released.
"In my opinion, these are not the roads to be travelled in this type of manner," he said.