Briton held for over 2 years in Iraq freed

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 30, 2009 7:02 PM

A British contractor was freed Wednesday and in good health more than two years after he was abducted, apparently the only survivor of a group of five Britons abducted in a daring raid outside Iraq's Finance Ministry in 2007.

His release came as a bombing in the country's western Anbar province killed 23 people and narrowly missed the province's governor. The high-profile attack in what used to be a stronghold of the insurgency was a sign of the tenuousness of the security in Iraq.

Computer consultant Peter Moore, who was handed over to Iraqi authorities Wednesday morning, was abducted in May 2007 along with his four British bodyguards. All the bodyguards are believed dead.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Moore, 36, was in good health at the British Embassy in Baghdad and would soon return to Britain. He said no concessions had been made to the hostage-takers and that Moore's release was the result of the reconciliation process between Iraq's government and armed groups willing to renounce violence.

Moore's release, however, coincided with the transfer of the head of the militant group behind the kidnapping, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, from U.S. to Iraqi custody.

Qais al-Khazali, along with his brother, were accused of organizing a daring attack on a local government headquarters in the city of Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers on Jan. 20, 2007.

Moore's kidnappers had demanded his release along with that of several Shiite militiaman held by U.S. forces. The militant group in August promised to lay down its weapons and join the political process, which had raised hopes for Moore's release.

In London, a spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office told The Associated Press that U.S. forces transferred al-Khazali to Iraqi custody on Wednesday but denied any connection with Moore. She spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department regulations.

In Baghdad, a representative of al-Khazali's group and an Iraqi member of the negotiating team that helped secure Moore's release said al-Khazali was transferred, but they said it took place about a week ago.

Neither would say explicitly that there was a deal, but they added that the militant group did not release Moore until it confirmed the transfer.

In Washington, a senior U.S. defense official said al-Khazali was released Wednesday under an arrest warrant for further detention and was one of 1,522 prisoners handed over to Iraq by the U.S. this year as part of reconciliation efforts.

The officials in Iraq and Washington all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Moore's father, Graeme, said the family was looking forward to having him back.

"I'm just so overjoyed for the lad. It's been such a long haul," he said.

Moore's release was a rare exception in Iraq where the fate of many hostages does not end so well.

The remains of the three other Britons taken with Moore were returned to Britain earlier this year. It is not clear how they died, although two had multiple gunshot wounds.

British officials have said they believe the fourth bodyguard is dead, and Miliband Wednesday called on the hostage-takers to return his body.

British aid worker Margaret Hassan was abducted in Baghdad in October 2004 and later killed, although her body was never found. American Tom Fox was working with an anti-war organization in Iraq when he was kidnapped in 2005. His body was found in 2006 atop a garbage dump. Two Canadians and one Briton abducted with him were later freed.

Thousands of Iraqis have been targeted as well, either in the sectarian violence that almost destroyed the country or for money.

Moore's release came as twin attacks in Anbar province narrowly missed the region's governor, killing 23 people and raising concerns about the insurgency's continued ability to wage high-profile attacks.

Two bombs exploded in Anbar's capital of Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, said police Lt. Col. Imad al-Fahdawi. First, a car driven by a suicide bomber blew up near a checkpoint on the main road near the provincial administration buildings.

Then, as the Gov. Qassim al-Fahdawi went out to look at what had happened, a second bomber with an explosives belt strapped to his body pushed through the crowd surrounded the governor and blew himself up just yards from where the governor stood, al-Fahdawi said.

It was not known whether the first bomb was designed to lure the governor out of his office, but insurgents commonly use staggered explosions as a way to maximize damage as rescuers and security officials rush to the scene.

The strategically important region was once the heartland of support for al-Qaida-linked militants, before many insurgents joined forces with U.S. troops and the Iraqi government. Violence has dropped remarkably since then but a reinvigorated insurgency in Anbar _ Iraq's largest province _ would be a serious threat to Iraq's stability.

___

Associated Press writers Mazin Yahya in Baghdad; Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Portland, Oregon; and