British hostage freed in Iraq

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A British man held hostage in Iraq for over two-and-a-half years has been freed, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said today.

Computer expert Peter Moore, 36, was kidnapped along with his four British bodyguards at the finance ministry in Baghdad on May 29, 2007.

Fears for his safety grew after the bodies of three of the security guards were handed over to the UK authorities.

But Mr Miliband confirmed today that Mr Moore had been released and was in "good health".

He said: "Peter was set free by his captors this morning in Baghdad and delivered to the Iraqi authorities.

"He is now in the care of the British embassy in Baghdad."

Mr Miliband said he had a "very moving" conversation with Mr Moore, from Lincoln, adding that the former hostage was "to put it mildly absolutely delighted" at his release.

Mr Moore's father Graeme, 60, from Wigston, Leicestershire, said he was "over the moon" at the news.

He said: "We are so relieved and we just want to get him home, back now to his family and friends.

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

"I know that there have been one or two people working in the background to get Peter released.

"Peter is a very resilient lad and he always has been because of his background... but I don't know how close he was to those others who have been shot."

The father added that he felt the Foreign Office had been "obstructive" in the effort to secure his son's safe release.

Mr Moore and his guards - Alan McMenemy, Alec MacLachlan, Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell - were seized by about 40 armed men wearing police uniforms.

Earlier this year there were fresh hopes that all five Britons could be freed after the US released a leading Shiite insurgent who had been linked to the kidnapping.

But these were dashed when the bodies of Mr Swindlehurst, 38, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, and Mr Creswell, 39, originally from Glasgow, were handed over in June.

This was followed by the delivery of the body of Mr MacLachlan, 30, from Llanelli, South Wales, to the British embassy in Baghdad in September.

The family of Mr McMenemy, from Glasgow, was told by the Foreign Office in July he was "very likely" to have died.

Mr Miliband, who is understood to have broken off his holiday to make today's announcement, appealed for the kidnappers to release Mr McMenemy's body.

He said: "We have believed for some time that he has been killed, and his family have been told our view of his likely fate.

"I call today again in the strongest terms for the hostage-takers to return Alan's body as soon as possible."

Mr Miliband said Mr Moore would be reunited with his loved ones in Britain shortly.

"I have just had a very moving conversation with Peter himself," he said.

"Peter is in good health despite many months of captivity. He is undergoing careful medical checks and he is going to be reunited with his family as soon as possible back in the UK.

"He is obviously - to put it mildly - absolutely delighted at his release.

"We are in close touch with Peter's family. His family and friends are also deeply relieved that he has been released, that he has come through what has been an unspeakable two-and-a-half years of misery, fear and uncertainty."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "hugely relieved" by the "wonderful news" that Mr Moore had been released and would be reunited with his family.

He said: "They have faced a terrible ordeal, and I know that the whole nation will share their joy that he is coming home. I pay tribute to all those who helped in the protracted effort to secure the release.

"At this moment of celebration, we also remember the families of British hostages who have been killed in Iraq and elsewhere.

"And we pledge to continue to do everything we can to bring British hostages back to their loved ones, including the remaining hostage of the group in Iraq, Alan McMenemy. I demand that the hostage takers return him to us."

The Prime Minister later spoke to Mr Moore, telling him he hoped to see him reunited with his family "as soon as possible", Number 10 said.

Mr Brown has also talked to the former hostage's family and paid tribute to their "resilience and steadfastness over this incredibly difficult period".

Conservative leader David Cameron said: "I am delighted at the news of Peter Moore's release after such a long and terrible ordeal. This is wonderful news for his family as we enter the new year and for all who have followed this harrowing affair.

"At the same time our thoughts are of course with the families of his four bodyguards at what will be a particularly difficult and poignant time for them."

Mr Miliband defended the British Government's handling of the hostage crisis and denied any direct deal had been done to secure Mr Moore's release.

He said: "The British Government does not make substantive concessions to hostage takers, anywhere and any place, and there was no such substantive concession in this case."

The Foreign Secretary said the UK had "always kept this case under review and we have always been seeking to develop our tactics but we've always been very clear about the end result, which was the release of the hostages.

"In this case one has been released alive."

He said Mr Brown had "devoted significant effort" to securing the release in talks with his Iraqi counterpart and others.

Mr Moore, he said, was in a "remarkable frame of mind given the two-and-a-half years that he has had".

"Real strengths, real commitment, a real determination to get back to his life."

Mr Miliband said: "My thoughts today are also with the families of Jason Swindlehurst, Jason Creswell and Alec MacLachlan, who did not survive this hostage-taking and whose bodies were repatriated to the UK earlier this year.

"For Peter's family the pain and the anguish is over. For the other families, it endures."

Mr Moore's release was made possible by the Iraqi government's process of national reconciliation with armed groups prepared to renounce violence, the Foreign Secretary added.

"I hope it will lead also to the end to the scourge of hostage-taking and violence in that country," he said.

Responsibility for the kidnappings was at first pinned on Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

They were thought to be a retaliatory attack for the killing by British forces of the militia's commander in Basra, southern Iraq, a week earlier.

But al-Sadr's followers denied responsibility and suspicion fell on splinter groups alleged to be controlled by Iran.

The kidnappers, calling themselves the Islamic Shiite Resistance in Iraq, issued several videos featuring the captives and making demands.

In February last year a video broadcast by Dubai-based TV station Al-Arabiya showed a bearded and tired-looking Mr Moore asking Mr Brown to free nine Iraqis in exchange for the British hostages.

He said: "All I want is to leave this place. I tell Gordon Brown the matter is simple: release their prisoners so we can go."

Mr Moore also appeared in another video which was sent directly to the British Embassy in Baghdad in March.

Asked if he was satisfied that everything possible had been done by the UK, Mr Miliband said: "I know that officials in the Foreign Office, both in London and in Iraq, have worked tirelessly on this case. I know that the Prime Minister has devoted significant effort as well ... to reinforce the importance of this case.

"The Foreign Office has also dedicated enormous resource to this."

Mr Miliband said the release was also "the result of some very hard work on the part of the Iraqi authorities and we are very grateful for that".

He reiterated the Government's view that Mr McMenemy was dead but said "ultimate clarity" was impossible without a body.

"We are clear about our own view. We communicated that to the family. I have communicated it publicly.

"However, I think it is also important that we say that ultimate clarity will only ever come with the release of the body."