Four Russian bikers who were arrested in Iraq last weekend and complained of beatings by security forces have been freed and are in Russian custody, a top official said Friday.
"The bikers arrested in Iraq are already in the Russian embassy," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin wrote on his Twitter blog. "Their bikes have not yet been returned. Thank you everyone who helped out."
The four Russians entered Iraq on their motorcycles through the autonomous Kurdistan region on Saturday and were detained in the province of Diyala by military patrol.
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They were soon released but arrested a second time the next day near Baghdad after failing to apply for travel documents, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said this week.
Russian media picked up the bikers' case with some outlets quoting one of the bikers' text messages sent from a mobile phone he allegedly concealed in his underwear, which said they are accused of espionage and may be executed.
The bikers reportedly denied they entered Iraq without a visa and their supporters in Moscow picketed the Iraqi embassy on Thursday while Russia was participating in key talks in Baghdad concerning Iran's nuclear programme.
A brother of one of the travelers, Yevgeny Vardanyants, told Interfax that he finally heard from the group, who "confirmed everything is okay" and thanked the media for their participation.