British officials believe all five Britons kidnapped in Iraq almost two years ago are alive, despite claims by the hostage takers last year that one of them had taken his own life.
The revelation comes after the British embassy in Baghdad received a tape of one of the hostages, the first such video in eight months.
The tape was handed over to the embassy by Iraqi security officials last week, and was purportedly filmed nine days ago.
Embassy officials declined to reveal the identity of the hostage, while analysts try to determine whether the footage is indeed new.
However, the man is believed to be Peter Moore, a computer consultant who was kidnapped along with his four security guards from an office near the finance ministry in Baghdad, where he had been working.
Moore was shown in a video released in February last year and again in July, about 12 months after all five were taken from a small office, called the Computer Services Institute, in an area of east Baghdad known as Palestine Street.
The hostages are believed to have been taken by a Shiite militia. Several analysts familiar with the negotiations believe the kidnappers are loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite leader whose Iranian-backed militia, the Mehdi army, is opposed to the occupation.
Neither British nor Iraqi officials will comment about efforts to release the hostages, believed to center on the kidnappers’ demands that a Sadr loyalist, Kais al-Khazili, be released from the custody of US forces in Iraq.
Khazili was detained on suspicion that he organized an attack more than four years ago that killed four US soldiers.
Sources believe the kidnappers have demanded Khazali’s release before the hostages are freed. They suggest Iraq and Britain have balked at the demand, insisting the hostages are released before any deal is done.
The US continues to hold Khazali at its desert detention centre, Camp Bucca, near Basra.
The camp is scheduled to be scaled down this year, with most prisoners — including those deemed to be Mehdi army or al-Qaeda militants — likely to be transferred to the Iraqi prison system by the end of the year.
US plans for Khazali are unknown, but are likely to feature heavily in negotiations for the hostages.
The five men were seized during the height of the insurgency in an operation described by one British official as “almost uniquely professional.”
Up to 12 vehicles were involved and were seen to head in different directions from the kidnapping site. Some entered nearby Sadr City, parts of which remain a no-go zone for occupying forces.
Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie described the negotiations as “extremely sensitive.”
The UK Foreign Office and the British army have said everything is being done to win their release.
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