Tue, Sep 29, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Iraq frees detainees linked to group of British hostages

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

Iraq released dozens of jailed militants over the weekend, including many from a group believed to be behind the 2007 kidnapping of five Britons in a move that may be linked to efforts to free the two remaining hostages.

A statement from the Iraqi National Security Council said that 37 prisoners had been released on Sunday, but gave no further details. Another 23 were released on Saturday.

Many of a total of around 100 prisoners released in recent days were part of the Shiite militant group Asaib al-Haq, or Leagues of Righteousness, said Jassim al-Saedi, a senior member of the group.

He said that negotiations were ongoing to secure the release of up to 500 more Asaib al-Haq detainees.

“We have received 97 detainees, and next week we expect that to reach 200. The government has promised us they will release all our detainees by the end of November,” Saedi told reporters.

Five Britons — computer programmer Peter Moore and his four bodyguards — were seized in a raid at the Iraqi Finance Ministry in 2007 at the height of the chaos in Baghdad unleashed by the 2003 invasion.

The bodies of three of the guards have since been handed to British authorities. Britain believes that the remaining bodyguard may also be dead, but that Moore is alive.

British officials in Baghdad said on Sunday they believe Asaib al-Haq may be the group who orchestrated the kidnapping and could be holding anybody who is still alive.

Iraq has said it is not negotiating for the hostages’ freedom and has declined to link any efforts to free hostages with the release of militants.

But another senior member of Asaib al-Haq, who declined to be named, said all Asaib al-Haq prisoners must be released before any further steps would be taken.

Iraqi officials were not immediately available to comment.

A security pact between Washington and Baghdad obliges the US to release detainees who do not face Iraqi arrest warrants or detention orders, and Iraqi authorities are releasing some detainees to foster national reconciliation after years of war.

In February last year, a video featuring Moore, who appeared tired but not distressed, was aired by Dubai-based al Arabiya TV in which he called on the British government to secure their release.

Another video released in March, shown to relatives but not made public, showed Moore saying that he and other men were well, and also urging government efforts to secure their freedom.

The British military was the main US ally during the 2003 invasion, but has since ended its mission in Iraq.

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