Page last updated at 05:05 GMT, Thursday, 29 May 2008 06:05 UK

Relatives remember kidnapped Britons

By Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent


Hostage video
The kidnappers have released video allegedly showing some of the captives
It is exactly one year this Thursday since five British men were kidnapped in Baghdad's Finance Ministry in broad daylight by more than 40 gunmen disguised as policemen.

The Britons - a computer expert and his four bodyguards - are believed to be held by an offshoot Shiite militia calling itself "The Islamic Shiite Resistance in Iraq" and demanding the release of fellow militiamen in US custody.

Their plight has received little public attention apart from two videos released by the kidnappers and a small number of appeals by relatives and religious figures.

But now for the first time, the men's families have gathered together for this anniversary to speak exclusively to the BBC.

Sister's appeal

Lisette, the sister of Jason, the hostage who appeared in the first public "proof-of-life" video in December flanked by two unidentified gunmen, was first to speak.

She said: "Please, please release my brother, he's a father, a son, and a brother to myself.

"We miss him dearly. You know, make the 12 months... give him back, let him come home to his family. We really miss him, there's not a day, or a minute or anything that goes by without us thinking about Jason. We really want him home."

The five Britons were driven away that day in a convoy towards the sprawling Shiite district of Sadr City.

We've got to believe that the outcome's going to be positive
Father of hostage Alec

Within hours, Iraqi police cordoned off whole streets and carried out a series of raids, but in vain.

The kidnappers eventually made contact, calling for the release of a man called Qais Al-Khazaali and other Shia figures held by US forces.

Yet they asked for a media blackout and the British government complied, wary of doing anything that could jeopardise the captives' safety.

Since then, hostage negotiators have been quietly conducting a dialogue with intermediaries in Iraq.

They say the kidnappers are not extremist fanatics, they are behaving professionally, they have negotiable aims and appear to want to keep their prisoners alive and well-treated for an eventual exchange.

'Shell shock'

One year on since the kidnap, Colin, the father of another hostage, Alec, is still hoping for a peaceful outcome.

"Well we've got to believe that the outcome's going to be positive. And we do believe that. I think that the initial shock - the first week - was a complete blank.

"To be honest, we were so shocked by the news. Because, like every individual, one often thinks it will never happen to you, it will always happen to someone else.

"When the reality sets in that it's actually your son, things pale into insignificance for the first three days, shell shock.

"As things develop you sort of live with it, although you never completely get used to it, you've got to live with it, otherwise it will destroy you.

"So as a family we are very strong and positive that he will return. And we just hope that it will be sooner than later."

Good memories

In fact all the families are trying hard to stay strong. For them, this last year has been a living nightmare, made worse by the scarcity of any news.

But rather than wringing their hands in despair, they want to cheer the men up with memories of good times they hope will be repeated.

This was Jan, a friend of a third hostage who, confusingly, is also called Jason.

"My favourite memory of Jason I remember when his daughter was born, just seeing the look on his face. I'll never forget that as long as I live, when his only daughter was born.

"The look of happiness. I was the first person in there after she was born and it was a really poignant moment for me, a moment I'll never forget, just the look on his face when he held her.... yes he loves her dearly, his only daughter.

"She loves him very, very much as well and misses him massively."

Another relative, Caroline, spoke of her brother-in-law, Alan.

"I think about Alan as somebody who's a very vibrant personality, lots of enthusiasm, very much a risk-taker. Loves motor-biking, sky diving, in fact I think his daughter has inherited that from him. Last year, they were due to go on holiday and do some sky diving."

That appointment, she says, is on hold until he gets out. When that will be, nobody but the kidnappers can tell. As so often happens with hostage situations, it's a case of waiting, hoping and praying.



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SEE ALSO
Iraq hostage families make appeal
06 Sep 07 |  Middle East
Five Britons abducted in Baghdad
29 May 07 |  Middle East

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