Kidnapped Briton Is Freed in Iraq
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BAGHDAD -- A British man captured along with four others in Iraq was preparing Thursday to return to Britain, as new questions emerged about where he had been held and how he had managed to survive.
The British Foreign Office released a photograph taken Thursday of the man, Peter Moore, in which he appears healthy. But a spokesperson for the Foreign Office declined to say precisely when he would fly back to Britain.
Mr. Moore, a computer consultant, and his four bodyguards were kidnapped two and a half years ago in a brazen attack on an Iraqi government office. The bodies of three of the guards were recovered this year; the fourth is believed dead also. Although British authorities have offered almost no details about his captivity, several British news reports on Thursday tied Iran to the kidnappings. The BBC quoted the American commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, as saying he was "90 percent certain" that Mr. Moore had been held in Iran, and The Guardian newspaper, citing its own yearlong investigation, said Iran's Revolutionary Guard was behind the abductions.
A spokesperson for the British Home Office said the agency had "no evidence to substantiate claims of direct involvement in the kidnapping" by Iran.
Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said Mr. Moore's release was part of "a process of national reconciliation" between the government and armed groups like Mr. Moore's kidnappers and an effort to resolve their conflicts through the political system. He declined to discuss the terms of the release.
Mr. Moore, a computer consultant working for an American company, and four British bodyguards were kidnapped in Baghdad in May 2007, in one of the boldest assaults against foreign civilians in Iraq. Gunmen in police commando uniforms pulled up to a guarded Finance Ministry complex in midday, walked into the building and took the five Britons without firing a shot.
At the time, the abduction of foreign contractors was not uncommon, but the audacity of the episode -- with a convoy four government-issue sport utility vehicles rolling up to a heavily guarded public building just before noon -- shocked officials here and prompted accusations that security forces were complicit in the crime.
Three of the bodyguards -- Jason Swindlehurst, Jason Creswell and Alec MacLachlan -- were killed over the summer. British officials believe that the fourth, Alan McMenemy, was also killed, but his body has not been recovered. On Wednesday, David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, urged the kidnappers to release Mr. McMenemy's body. He noted that the elation over Mr. Moore's release was tempered by the deaths of his fellow hostages.
"For Peter's family, their pain and anguish is over," Mr. Miliband said. "For those of the other hostages, it endures."
Mr. Moore's stepmother, Pauline Sweeney, said in an interview that she had talked with her stepson, who told her "he'd been shunted from pillar to post, through various groups, but since June he's been treated very well."
When his captors came for him Wednesday morning, "he thought he was going to get a bullet in the back of the head," she said. "Because of the fate of the other men. But they just took him to the embassy and dumped him."
Graeme Moore, 60, Mr. Moore's estranged father, said he heard the news from a reporter asking for a comment. "He told me the Foreign Office was going to issue a statement," the elder Mr. Moore said. "At the time I thought the worst." When he saw, on a television news report, that his son had been released he was "absolutely ecstatic," he said. "I nearly went through the ceiling."
Many details of Mr. Moore's captivity remained unclear on Wednesday, including where he had been held, whether he had been mistreated and how he alone had managed to survive.
A splinter group of the Shiite Mahdi Army called Asa'ib al-Haq, or the League of the Righteous, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. That group claimed an infiltration attack in the city of Karbala in January 2007, in which fighters dressed in American uniforms and driving vehicles like those used by American reconstruction workers broke into the provincial government headquarters and kidnapped five Americans, all of whom were killed in the ensuing shootout. Asa'ib al Haq's leader, Qais al-Khazali, and his brother, Laith al-Khazali, were arrested by American troops.
After the Britons were abducted, it quickly became clear that the group intended to use them as bargaining chips to win the release of the Khazali brothers and others.
The British government ceded the negotiations for the captive Britons to the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, opening the door to greater flexibility than allowed by Britain's standing policy not to negotiate "substantive concessions" to kidnappers. The Maliki government was left to work out terms with the American authorities in Iraq, who held the Khazali brothers and their suspected accomplices. Finally, Asa'ib al-Haq renounced violence against Iraqis in an agreement in which the Americans released some of its members as part of a wider policy of handing detainees over to the Iraqi government. Laith al-Khazali was freed in June.
The killing of the three -- or four -- guards left the British government in a vexed political position. The freeing of Mr. Moore represented a late vindication of sorts for the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, though it was unclear what additional concessions, if any, had been made.
Mr. Miliband said that in the end the Iraqi government handled the negotiations and that there were no substantive concessions to the kidnappers. He called the case "a reflection of the complexity and difficulty associated with Iraqi political development."
First Published January 1, 2010 2:00 am