Iraqi government officials may have colluded in the kidnapping of five Britons two years ago in a bid to prevent high-level corruption being exposed, it was reported today.
Only one of the UK contractors abducted at the finance ministry in Baghdad on May 29 2007 is still believed to be alive, and negotiations for his release are ongoing.
There was also a sixth Westerner, a US IT consultant, in the ministry that day but he escaped capture by hiding in a toilet, according to The Guardian.
The five Britons - computer expert Peter Moore and his four bodyguards Alan McMenemy, Alec MacLachlan, Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell - were seized by about 40 armed men wearing police uniforms.
An unnamed senior Iraqi intelligence source told The Guardian the highly-organised kidnapping was "one only a government can do".
Mr Moore had been installing a computer system to track billions of pounds in foreign aid and oil revenue through the finance ministry.
The intelligence source told the paper: "Many people don't want a high level of corruption to be revealed.
"Remember this is the information technology centre, this is the place where all the money to do with Iraq and all Iraq's financial matters are housed."
Paul Wood, a former British Army officer who investigated the abduction for the four bodyguards' employers, GardaWorld, said it was "too perfect".
"It would make sense to think that there was someone on the inside telling the kidnappers when to come, what to expect and how to deal with any security issues they were going to face," he told the paper.
"It strikes me as unlikely that there couldn't have been some kind of collaboration for the convoy of that size."
The families of Mr McMenemy, from Glasgow, and Mr MacLachlan, from Llanelli, south Wales, were told by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last week that their loved ones were "very likely" to have died.
This followed the handover of the bodies of Mr Swindlehurst, 38, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, and Mr Creswell, 39, originally from Glasgow, to the British Embassy in Baghdad last month.
The tragic developments left the family of Mr Moore, 36, from Lincoln, desperate for news about his fate.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said this week that Mr Moore was still believed to be alive and appealed for his release.
Responsibility for the kidnapping was at first pinned on Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.
It was 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 which the US believes are controlled by Iran.
The kidnappers, calling themselves the Islamic Shiite Resistance in Iraq, have 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.
The release of leading Shiite insurgent Laith al-Khazali by US forces on June 6 had sparked fresh hopes that the Britons could be freed.
Al-Khazali is a senior member of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or the League of the Righteous, which has been linked to the kidnapping.
An inquest last month heard that Mr Swindlehurst and Mr Creswell suffered gunshot wounds, although it is not clear exactly when they died.Reuse content