Iran denies involvement in UK hostages
Britain and Iran are downplaying a report that the 2007 kidnapping of a British computer expert and his bodyguards in Iraq was led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, who took the men to Iran.
Peter Moore was freed unharmed Wednesday after a two-and-a-half year ordeal in which all four bodyguards are thought to have died. A first photo since his release showed him looking relaxed in the grounds of Britain’s Baghdad embassy.
But there is speculation a deal was done after it emerged the leader of the group which took Moore from a government building in Baghdad was being transferred from US to Iraqi custody, with the Guardian’s investigative film leading the way, and Britain’s Channel 4 News coming up with further claims.
Iran has dismissed as “baseless” reports of its involvement, saying they were motivated by British “anger” over a crackdown on opposition protests.
“They emanate from the British anger towards the rallies in which millions of Iranians took part to condemn British interference in (Iran’s) internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by state-controlled news channel Al-Alam.
Britain added it had “no evidence” to support the report in the Guardian newspaper that the Revolutionary Guard led the operation and took the five to Iran within a day of their abduction.
The BBC also quoted the US’s former commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, as saying he was “90 percent certain” that the group was held in Iran for part of their time in capitivity.
The Guardian claim that Moore was targeted because he was installing a computer tracking system that would show how international aid money to Iraqi institutions was diverted to Iran’s militia groups in Iraq.
Several sources repeat Iran-connection claims
A former unnamed Revolutionary Guard said the five were held in two camps. “It was an Iranian kidnap, led by the Revolutionary Guard, carried out by the Al-Quds brigade,” he was quoted saying.
An unnamed Iraqi government minister backed up the claims, telling the Guardian: “This was an IRG (Iranian Revolutionary Guard) operation”.
But Sami al-Askari, an Iraqi lawmaker who the Guardian suggested had flown to Iran to meet the kidnappers, denied this to the BBC, while acknowledging that he was involved in talks with the hostage-takers in Iraq.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it has “no evidence” to support the reports of an Iranian link.
“We have seen speculation that Iran is directly involved in this case,” a spokesman said. “Iran of course has an influence in Iraq, but we have no evidence to substantiate claims of direct involvement in this case.”
US transfers kidnap leader to Iraqi custody
Amid speculation, denied by Britain, that a deal was done to secure 36-year-old Moore’s release, the US confirmed Thursday that the leader of the group behind the kidnapping was being transferred to Iraqi custody.
“The United States has complied with an Iraqi government request in accordance with the US-Iraqi Security Agreement and the rule of law to transfer AAH (Asaib al-Haq) members, to include Qais al-Khazaali, from US custody to Iraqi custody pursuant to an Iraqi arrest warrant,” the US spokesman said.
Although it was not immediately clear if Khazaali was still in US custody, the BBC reported that he had been handed over “very recently”.