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Qatar frees eight Indians months after dropping death sentences

NEW DELHI, Feb 12 (Reuters) -- Qatar has released eight Indian ex-naval officers after dropping their death sentences, India's foreign ministry said on Monday, crediting the Qatari emir for the decision more than 18 months after their arrest challenged diplomatic ties.

The men were charged with spying for Israel, according to sources, though India and Qatar did not confirm the charges. Their death sentences, handed down in October, were dropped in December.

India said seven of the officers have returned to the country, with some of them telling media on arrival in New Delhi that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "personal intervention" helped free them.

New Delhi engaged in talks for months with Qatar after the men were arrested in August 2022. The case challenged ties with Doha, a crucial natural gas supplier to India, one of the world's top energy importers.

"We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and homecoming of these nationals," the ministry said. The men were working on a submarine project with a private company for Qatari authorities at the time of their arrest.

The announcement comes days after Qatari and Indian companies signed their biggest single deal for supplies of liquefied natural gas.

It also comes after Modi met Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai in December when the "well-being of the Indian community in Qatar" was discussed.

Some of the men told news agency ANI after their arrival at New Delhi airport that they credited Modi for the decision. "It wouldn't have been possible without his personal intervention and his equation with Qatar," one of the men told ANI, which did not name any of the men.