Two more Iraq hostages 'likely dead'

Two more hostages from a group of Britons kidnapped in Baghdad two years ago are “very likely” dead, leaving only one whose fate remains unclear, reports said on Wednesday.

The Foreign Office last week told the families of Alan McMenemy and Alec MacLachlan, among five Britons kidnapped in May 2007, that they believed they were dead, the BBC and Sky News television reported.

The bodies of two other guards, Jason Swindlehurst (38) and Jason Creswell (39), were handed over to the British embassy in Baghdad last month. The fate of the other hostage, British computer consultant Peter Moore, is unknown.

Moore and the four security guards were kidnapped in the Iraqi Finance Ministry, in an audacious operation by about 40 heavily armed militants posing as security personnel.

A Foreign Office spokesperson could not confirm the latest reports.

“We don’t discuss the operational details of individual cases. We remain extremely concerned for the safety of the hostages and we continue to work intensively for their release,” she said.

In a statement the families of the five hostages said they were “deeply upset and troubled” at the new reports.

“We are all deeply upset and troubled to hear the reports that Alec and Alan have died in the hands of their captors, as well as Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell.

“This is a terrible ordeal for us all.
We ask those holding our men for compassion when so many are working hard for reconciliation in Iraq and we continue to pray for the safe return of our men.”

Business Minister Peter Mandelson said Britain was doing all it could.

“We are intensively engaged through a whole variety of different channels but I don’t disguise the fact that we are extremely concerned for the safety of the hostages,” he told Sky News.

Moore’s father Graham said there was still hope for his son—but reiterated criticism of the way the Foreign Office handled the kidnapping. For a long time British authorities imposed a media blackout, arguing that publicity could jeopardise the hostages’ fate.

“It is just a lottery at the moment as to what happens,” he said.

“It is known that the word was that Peter was being treated differently because the others are ex-army and bodyguards and Peter was being treated differently as a civilian.

“At the moment, as things stand, it’s all we can hope for.”

But he added: “This just proves that the Foreign Office has mishandled it. There were rumours two weeks ago that the two bodyguards had been shot dead.

“[Prime Minister] Gordon Brown was in Leicester on Saturday but he didn’t bother to speak to me. At the moment, we are going on the hope that Peter is alive and we can’t really say any more than that.”

Moore was working for United States management consultancy BearingPoint, while the four guards were employed by Canadian firm GardaWorld, one of the security contractors used by firms to protect their staff in Iraq.

The Foreign Office said in March that the Iraqi militant group believed to be holding them, the League of the Righteous, had sent a video featuring one of the captives to the British embassy in Baghdad.

The video was not broadcast, but reports said it showed Moore saying the men were being treated well.

Hopes for the hostages rose last month after an Iraqi militant linked to the League of the Righteous was freed, although the Foreign Office has sought to downplay the significance, saying Britain never does deals with kidnappers.—Sapa-AFP

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