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Four employees of French Christian NGO 'missing in Baghdad'

SOS Chretiens d'Orient has been criticised for its links to France's far right and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Jeanne Der Agopian, press relations officer, and Benjamin Blanchard, directer general of the French charity SOS Chretiens d'Orient (Christians of the Middle East) give a press conference in Paris (AFP)

Four employees of a Christian NGO that has links with the French far right have been missing in Baghdad since Monday, the charity announced on Friday.

Benjamin Blanchard, the director of SOS Chretiens d'Orient (Christians of the Middle East), said that the four men - three French citizens and one Iraqi - were last seen four days ago near the French embassy in the capital.

He said the group had been in Baghdad to "to renew their visas and register the association with Iraqi authorities," and that they were "experienced staff members who have been working with us for years".

He added that there had been no ransom or claim of responsibility for their disappearance.

The Christian NGO has been active in Iraq since 2014, primarily in the northern city of Erbil, and focuses on providing support to Christian communities across the Middle East.

However, the NGO is fiercely critical of Islam and portrays the religion as a threat to Christianity in the Middle East.

It has been branded "far right" over its links to Marine Le Pen's National Rally (formerly National Front) party in France, and has also been criticised for sending young French volunteers to Syria and offering support to President Bashar al-Assad, who it says has been "demonised".

Mgr Pascal Gollnisch, the vicar general of France's Eastern Rite Catholics, said in a strongly worded interview with La Croix, a French Roman Catholic newspaper in 2017 that: "Christians in the Mid-East should not be seen to be partisan."

Gollnisch slammed the NGO for portraying conflicts in the Middle East as one between Christians and Muslims, adding it was a view that was rejected by church leaders on the ground.

Kidnappings of foreigners have become rare in Iraq in recent years. In the past, foreigners were targeted by groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, as well as Iran-backed militias and criminal organisations.