Did British bomb attacks in Iran provoke hostage crisis?

Abduction of computer expert and bodyguards in Iraq were an act of revenge by Tehran, source reveals

The abduction of the British computer expert Peter Moore and his four bodyguards was carried out partly in revenge for deadly bomb attacks in south-west Iran which Iranian officials blamed on Britain, according to a well-placed source in Baghdad.

The five men were abducted by an Iranian-backed group in 2007 and it is now believed four of them have been killed. The fate of Mr Moore remains unclear. The Iranians orchestrated the abduction through an Iraqi proxy, the Asaib al-Haq, which they largely controlled, the source said.

Their main motive was to obtain prisoners to be used as a bargaining chip to secure the release of Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Asaib al-Haq, and other imprisoned militants who had split from the movement led by the Shia anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

But the Iranians had a second motive for targeting the British, says the source who, as a member of Mr Sadr's movement, is well-informed about Asaib al-Haq and its supporters. He says Iran was convinced Britain was backing Arab separatist groups in the Iranian oil province of Khuzestan which had made a series of bomb attacks on civilian targets, killing 28 people and wounding 225 in the two years before the kidnapping of the five Britons in Baghdad. Khuzestan has an Arab minority of two million.

These bombings attracted little attention outside Iran, but were taken very seriously by the Iranians who furiously denounced the US and Britain for supporting small gangs of anti-government militants planting the explosives. The attacks included four blasts in a single day in Ahvaz, the Iranian city across the Shatt al-Arab waterway from Basra, on June 2005, which killed 11 people and wounded 87.

The bombs were planted near government offices and a television station. Targets were evidently chosen without regard for civilian casualties. Iran blamed Britain, and British forces in Basra in particular, for the bombings in Ahvaz. These incidents have never really stopped, the latest being the discovery in May this year of an explosive device in the toilet of an Iranian plane flying out of Ahvaz with 131 people on board which was defused before it blew up. After two bombs exploded in Ahvaz in October 2005, killing six people and wounding at least 100, Iran's Deputy Interior Minister, Mohammed Hossein Mousapour, said: "Most probably those involved in the explosion were British agents who were involved in the previous incidents in Ahvaz and Khuzestan." The Foreign Office publicly denied any British involvement for which Iran produced no evidence.

But at the time Mr Moore and his four security guards were kidnapped, America was escalating its own covert war against Iran. It was revealed last year by the US newsletter Counterpunch that President George W Bush had asked Congress for $300m (£180m) to destabilise Iran by funding dissident groups.

"The covert activities involved support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organisations," added the journalist Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker magazine. He said US special operations forces had been conducting cross-border operations into southern Iran during 2007, seizing members of the al-Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and bringing them back to Iraq for interrogation.

The fate of Mr Moore and the four British men working for the Canadian security company GardaWorld may have been affected by this tit-for-tat secret war between the Americans and the Iranians. "The Iranians did not want to provoke the Americans into an all-out war, so Britain was a useful target as America's main ally," said one former Iraqi official. He quoted the old Iraqi saying: "If you don't dare fight your neighbour, you beat his dog."

The Foreign Office has been blamed for its conduct of negotiations with the kidnappers, but its officials were faced with a uniquely complicated situation. They had to deal not only with Asaib al-Haq, but with its shadowy Iranian backers and with the Americans, who actually had Qais al-Khazali and other militant leaders in prison.

It is unlikely that Mr Moore was abducted in order to suppress evidence of corruption in the finance ministry whose information service he was seeking to upgrade. Ali Allawi, the former Iraqi finance minister, says the idea is "far-fetched", though bureaucrats in the finance ministry were opposed to a new system of financial management which would have made the flow of government money more visible. Mr Allawi says that official resistance in the finance ministry was sufficient to kill off the scheme.

The abduction by men dressed as interior ministry forces was not out of the ordinary in Baghdad at the time, where there was no clear boundary between police and death squads.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Asset Finance Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment