Peter Moore: 'I feel guilty I'm the only one alive'

He was one of five men kidnapped in Iraq. Why is he the only one who made it home? By Kim Sengupta

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The Independent Online

The funeral of Alan McMenemy took place in a bitterly cold, rainy day at a parish church near Glasgow last week. His body was the final one of four British hostages in Iraq to be returned. The murdered security guard's distraught father, Dennis, has accused the British Government of "deceit, lies and cover-ups" during the four years and seven months that his son had been missing.

Peter Moore, the only one of the group to be freed, understands the feeling of anger and hopelessness over the deaths. "What happened was terrible," he says now, in an interview with The Independent in which he gives the first full public account of his experiences.

"I am sure that everyone involved in the rescue effort – the Foreign Office, the military – worked extremely hard and did their best. But something went very wrong and questions have to be asked.

"Four out five are dead, that's an 80 per cent failure rate in getting those kidnapped back alive, which is pretty poor by any standards. It would be good to know what lessons have been learned from this by the UK authorities, [for] if something like this happens again. The people the kidnappers wanted released were eventually released, but four people died in the meantime. And the people who the kidnappers wanted released were released anyway."

Mr Moore, a 38-year-old IT consultant, and his four guards, all British ex-servicemen, were kidnapped in Baghdad in May 2007. He was eventually freed in return for, and after, the release of two senior leaders of the Shia paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the brothers Qais and Laith al-Khazali. The negotiations were carried out by an MI6 officer then based in the Iraqi capital.

Laith al-Khazali, regarded as one of the more dangerous militia commanders, responsible for numerous attacks on American and British troops, visited Mr Moore, he now reveals, in his cell for meetings that lasted hours. The Asaib leader told him the other Britons were dead, shot when they tried to escape and on another occasion when their guards thought the house they were being held was going to be raided. "In fact, there was actually no house raid. Al-Khazali said it was a mistake and he apologised," said Mr Moore.

In the early days of his captivity, the treatment meted out to Mr Moore was often brutal. But the militia fighters also attempted to make use of his IT skills. "Beatings were quite routine at the time. One day they asked me to repair a laptop. Next day a man came into the room and smashed me on the head with the butt of his Glock [pistol]. The laptop belonged to the commander, I was told, and he did not want to be kept waiting.

"After that I was asked to help out quite a lot with their computers. Some of them held American and British military information which was obviously being passed on to them. Because their English was poor they wanted me to translate some of the stuff. Of course, I had to be very careful what I told them."

All this was of huge interest to the British and Americans after Mr Moore's release. He was extensively de-briefed by MI6, the military and UK police officers based at the embassy and the CIA. He then returned to the UK and meetings with dignitaries such as the Foreign Secretary. There were media interviews in which, he said, he kept his comments as uncritical as possible and tried to correct the repeated claims in one newspaper, The Guardian, that he had been taken across the border into Iran, something he insists never happened.

But the freed hostage found he could not settle in England. Before Iraq he had been working in Guyana and that is where he returned, to set up a computerised system for flood defences. He is back now, briefly, in the UK, for a work-related course, to try and get further information about what happened.

Mr Moore reflected: "I can't help feeling guilty that I am living my life while the others are not here. I often wonder what the outcome would have been if we had all been kept at the same place. Alan and I were held together for about eight months and then we were separated. I did not see him or any of the others again."

On 30 December 2009 Mr Moore was moved out of the house where he was being kept in Sadr City, a Shia suburb of Baghdad, to be, he thought, either shot or be sold to al-Qa'ida. Instead he found himself in the British embassy. "My first words were 'I want a pee'. I just wanted to be alone and I thought that the only place for that would be the toilet."

Mr Moore was working for an American IT company, Bearing Point, in Baghdad, setting up a data system at the Ministry of Finance. Iraq, at the time, was a place of particularly vicious strife between Sunni insurgents battling US forces and those of the Iraqi government. Coalition troops were also confronting Shia militias, especially in the British-controlled south of the country.

On 29 May 2007 Mr Moore and his protection team – Alan McMenemy, Jason Swindlehurst, Jason Creswell and Alec MacLachlan – were taken away at gunpoint from their workplace. The guards were all working for a Canadian security outfit, Garda World. The Company, the Foreign Office found out to its surprise, did not have kidnap insurance policy despite operating in Iraq. In the aftermath of the kidnappings it appointed a crisis management public relations firm, Millbrook Partnership, whose activities led to friction later with Mr Moore.

Recently, Garda World's chief executive in Montreal, Stephan Cretier, claimed the four guards were "killed by a bullet in the head on the first days of captivity", adding that: "Today, the hostage [Mr Moore] says how Garda World did extraordinary things for him, how we took care of the families of the unfortunate employees that we lost."

Mr Moore responded: "They were not killed in the first days of captivity. I spoke to them up until December 2007 and Alan did a video which was passed to the British Embassy in Baghdad in 2008. I am not alive due to anything that Garda World has done – the only reason I was released was because the British Embassy brokered a deal between the Americans and the Iraqis to exchange me for the al-Khazalis. I do not go around praising Garda World, I am quite critical of them."

Downing Street officials stated at the time that the abducters were militia fighters in Iraqi police uniform. Mr Moore is convinced they were members of the country's security forces. "When I got to know some of them they did not hide they were serving personnel, they showed me their ID cards," he said. "One of them told me that he had joined the militia after seeing mistreatment of Iraqi civilians by British forces in Basra.

"I can understand why the British Government would say that they were terrorists in disguise. It'd have been quite embarrassing to admit that the police of our allies, the Iraqi government, were going around kidnapping UK citizens. One of the guys who talked to me at the [British] embassy after I was released was a British police officer who was part of a team training the Iraqi police. I said, 'It was some of the guys you trained who probably did this to us! Fine training you are giving them!' I was only half-joking."

Mr Moore was refused a copy of the notes of his debrief interview with British police and had to appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which decided in his favour. "It's one of the odd things about this case. I wanted the notes because I am trying to piece together what happened. I was not asking for anything secret."

The apparent collusion in the abduction by Iraqi officials helps to explain, perhaps, why British and American forces in the rescue mission had so little useful intelligence. An SAS officer in Baghdad at the time, now involved in the security operation for the London Olympics, said in a message to Moore: "Tell Peter that we did over 20 house assaults to develop the intelligence to find him and the others, and one evening came to within 500 metres of getting one of the key players. Unfortunately we never quite got enough intelligence. I did, however, sit on four separate Cobra [Cabinet security conferences] to discuss his rescue with ministers."

There was strong opposition in Washington to the release of the al-Khazalis, who were accused of killing five US soldiers. However, the two men were eventually freed and Laith al-Khazali visited Mr Moore. "The first meeting lasted about four hours, during which time he accused me of being a military intelligence officer. I built up a working relationship with my guards. They had stopped keeping me chained up, the mock executions had stopped."

A lot of the time was spent watching TV together. "It was Formula 1 at first. But then that became pay-per-view so they moved to international tennis instead, they sympathised with me when Andy Murray lost at Wimbledon yet again. But their favourite programme was Prison Break. I didn't see the funny side of that.

"I was in that particular place for so long that I saw apartments being built next door and eventually families move in. I suggested they should name one of the blocks after me as they seem to have so much influence with the Iraqi government. I wouldn't say the guards became friends, but we learned to get along."

On returning to the UK Mr Moore found that his real friends were unhappy about the public relations firm hired by Garda World, Millbrook, which had warned them it was handling all media matters relating to the kidnappings. Court papers lodged in the US at the time showed Garda World had continued to charge USAid, which paid for Mr Moore's protection, $1,000 (£630) a day for the "services" of the four bodyguards while they were in captivity. The Afghan government ordered Garda World to close down its operations in the country recently after employees were arrested over the alleged possession of an arms cache.

The Baghdad kidnappings and the deaths have been a matter for soul searching for the British officials who dealt with the crisis. A senior security officer involved in the case said: "The sad fact is that there was always the probability that some of these hostages would die. It is an unfortunate fact that not all kidnappings end with all the hostages being freed. We have had successes such as [BBC journalist] Alan Johnston in Gaza and Norman Kember in Baghdad.

"The group which was holding Peter Moore and others were ruthless and violent. We could not free the people they wanted immediately because they were firstly in American custody and also because the UK government has a policy of not giving in to kidnap demands. We kept telling the kidnappers that the people they wanted freed would eventually be freed through the political process."

The security officer added: "We do not know the exact circumstances of the deaths of the four men. But they were of military background and regarded as the enemy by the kidnappers. We did everything possible, but we received little concrete intelligence on their whereabouts. We know that the Iraqi police were heavily infiltrated. At the end of the day, what happened, was very, very sad."