The bodies of two British hostages kidnapped in Iraq in 2007 have been handed over to U.K. officials, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Saturday. He said the government feared three other Britons taken hostage with them were in grave danger, Associated Press reported.
Miliband said in a televised statement that "late last night we received the bodies of two hostages."
Information technology consultant Peter Moore and his four bodyguards were kidnapped May 29, 2007, by heavily armed men outside the Finance Ministry in Baghdad. Since then the hostages have been seen only on a few videos, and the British government has released little information about efforts to free them.
The bodies have not been formally identified but "our immediate thoughts are clearly with the families" of the five men, who were kidnapped by Shiite militants, Miliband said.
Moore's father, Graeme Moore, said the family was "clinging on to hope" that he was still alive. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said the British leader was "saddened and dismayed by the news."
Miliband said it was "a terrible moment of uncertainty and fear" for the men's families, and called for the release of the three remaining hostages.
"But I also have to say that the threat to them remains very high indeed," he said.
In a written statement, Miliband referred to "the remains of two bodies," suggesting the men had died some time ago. He said forensic tests are being conducted to identify the bodies.
The British government has been criticized for not seeking publicity for the case, preferring a low-key negotiation strategy.
Last year a British newspaper reported a claim by the kidnappers that one of the hostages had committed suicide, but that was never confirmed.
In March, a videotape showing Moore arrived at the British Embassy in Baghdad, giving the hostages' families some hope.
Miliband said the government was "working intensively" with Iraqi authorities to secure the release of the remaining hostages.
Hopes had risen after the release earlier this month of Laith al-Khazali, a Shiite militant who had been held in U.S. custody. The kidnappers had demanded the release of nine militiamen, including al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali, in exchange for the hostages.
Moore was working in Iraq for BearingPoint, a U.S.-based management consulting firm. The four other men - identified only as Alan, Alec and two men named Jason - worked for Canadian security firm GardaWorld. The full names of the four bodyguards have not been released at their families' request.
GardaWorld spokesman Joe Gavaghan said the company was "not giving up hope that Peter and our four security people are still alive."