Tue, Jan 05, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Iraq says fifth UK hostage may be returned in days

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

Iraq expects that the last of five British hostages captured by militants in Baghdad in 2007 will be handed to British authorities in the coming days, a government spokesman told reporters on Sunday.

Ali al-Dabbagh said that he was not able to confirm whether security guard Alan McMenemy was still alive, two-and-a-half years after his kidnapping at the height of Iraq’s sectarian violence.

British authorities, who believe McMenemy is dead, called for his body to be returned.

Peter Moore, a computer programmer who McMenemy and three other security guards were protecting when all five in the group were kidnapped by a Shiite militant company, was released alive last week and has returned home after one of the longest hostage crises involving Britons since the 1980s.

The bodies of the three other security guards, who like McMenemy were working for Canadian security firm GardaWorld, were handed to the British embassy last year.

“We hope McMenemy is still alive. The Iraqi government is seeking his release and his handover. That will be soon, God willing,” Dabbagh said. “This is part of the release process. All must be handed over to the British embassy. And that is what will happen in the coming days.”

Dabbagh later told other media outlets that McMenemy’s body would be handed over to British authorities. Dabbagh was not immediately available to clarify.

Britain’s Foreign Office said there was no reason to believe McMenemy, who is from Scotland, was alive.

“Our position is unchanged,” a spokeswoman said. “We’ve believed for some time that Alan has been killed. His family has been told about this.”

“We continue to urge those holding him to return his body. We are in close contact with the Iraqi authorities,” she said.

The brazen kidnapping, in which militants snatched the men from a heavily guarded Finance Ministry building, was seen as a symbol of the lawlessness marking the darkest days of bloodshed unleashed by the US-led invasion in 2003.

Violence has dropped sharply since then, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been trying to foster political stability, including reconciling with former insurgents and militias.

Qais al-Khazali, the leader of the militia group believed to be behind the Britons’ kidnapping, was transferred from US detention to Iraqi authorities last month.

Iraq plans to release him if judges find no evidence against him.

The move has been linked by some to Moore’s release, but Iraq denies the connection and says it took no part in any negotiations for the hostages.

Khazali’s brother was also imprisoned by US forces, but was freed in June shortly before the bodies of two of the other guards were returned to British authorities.

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