LONDON (AP) – The British government said Saturday that the bodies thought to be those of two hostages kidnapped in 2007 have been handed over to U.K. forces in Iraq.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a televised statement that “late last night we received the bodies of two hostages.”
Miliband said the bodies had not been formally identified but “our immediate thoughts are clearly with the families” of five British men kidnapped by Shiite militants two years ago.
“This is a very distressing development,” he said. Miliband said it was “a terrible moment of uncertainty and fear” for the families, and called for the release of the three remaining hostages.
In a written statement, Miliband referred to “the remains of two bodies,» suggesting the men had died some time ago. Forensic tests are being conducted to identify the bodies,” Miliband said.
Information technology consultant Peter Moore and his four bodyguards were kidnapped May 29, 2007, by heavily armed men outside the Finance Ministry in Baghdad. Since then, the hostages have been seen only on a few videos, and the British government has released little information about attempts to free them.
Last year a British newspaper reported a claim by the kidnappers that one of the hostages had committed suicide, but that was never confirmed.
In March, a videotape showing Moore arrived at the British Embassy in Baghdad, giving the hostages’ families some hope.
The British government has been criticized for not seeking publicity for the case, preferring a low-key negotiation strategy.
Miliband said the government was “working intensively” with Iraqi authorities to secure the release of the remaining hostages.
Hopes had risen after the release earlier this month of Laith al-Khazali, a Shiite militant who had been held in U.S. custody. The kidnappers had demanded the release of nine militiamen, including al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali, in exchange for the hostages.
Moore was working in Iraq for BearingPoint, a U.S.-based management consulting firm. The four other men, identified only as Alan, Alec and two men named Jason, worked for Canadian security firm GardaWorld. The full names of the four bodyguards have not been released at their families’ request.