The families of five Britons kidnapped in Iraq said today they were "deeply upset and troubled" at reports that another two of the men have died.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials told relatives of security guards Alan McMenemy and Alec MacLachlan last week that their loved ones were "very likely" to be dead.
This follows the release of the bodies of hostages Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell to the British Embassy in Baghdad last month.
The developments have left relatives of the fifth captive, IT consultant Peter Moore, desperate for news about his fate.
In a joint statement released today, the families of all five hostages said: "We are all deeply upset and troubled to hear the reports that Alec and Alan have died in the hands of their captors, as well as Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell.
"This is a terrible ordeal for us all. We ask those holding our men for compassion when so many are working hard for reconciliation in Iraq and we continue to pray for the safe return of our men."
The five Britons - Mr Moore, 36, from Lincoln, and his four bodyguards - were seized by about 40 armed men wearing police uniforms at the finance ministry in Baghdad on May 29, 2007.
Mr Moore's father, Graeme Moore, 59, from Wigston, Leicestershire, described his son's fate as a "lottery" today.
He said: "This just proves that the Foreign Office has mishandled it. There were rumours two weeks ago that the two bodyguards had been shot dead.
"Gordon Brown was in Leicester on Saturday but he didn't bother to speak to me. At the moment, we are going on the hope that Peter is alive and we can't really say any more than that."
The hostage's grandmother, Edna Moore, 84, said: "We can only hope. God help the other families... There's not much we can do, we feel so helpless."
The families of Mr McMenemy, who is believed to have lived in Glasgow, and Mr MacLachlan, from Llanelli, South Wales, are now seeking firm information about what has happened to the men.
Christine McMenemy, the wife of Mr McMenemy's father Dennis, looked upset at their home in a quiet cul-de-sac in Dumbarton in Scotland today.
She said: "My husband does not want to make any comment."
Llanelli Methodist minister the Rev Pauline Barnett, who knows Mr MacLachlan's family, said: "This is dreadful news. We've been praying for the family and hoping there would be a good ending to this story.
"If this is true, then we are devastated. It's an awful conclusion.
"This is a very close-knit area and what affects one family affects another. Of course, we'll uphold them in our prayers."
Some friends and relatives of the hostages have expressed frustration at the UK's low-key approach to securing their release.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office refused to comment on the case, saying it did not discuss operational details.
A spokeswoman said British officials received "lots of information from lots of sources" and the families were kept closely informed.
She added: "We continue to work intensively for the release of the hostages still held in this highly complex case and are extremely concerned for their safety."
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.
But this optimism was shattered when the bodies of Mr Swindlehurst, 38, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, and Mr Creswell, 39, originally from Glasgow, were handed over to authorities in Baghdad on June 19.
An inquest found the men died of gunshot wounds, although it is not clear exactly when they died.Reuse content