Page last updated at 20:47 GMT, Monday, 22 December 2008

Families' hope for Iraq hostages

By Frank Gardner
Security correspondent, BBC News

Jan, Roseleen and Caroline, left to right
The message to the hostages was to stay strong

The family and friends of five British men spending their second Christmas held captive in Iraq since being seized at gunpoint have spoken of their desperate hope the men will be released soon.

Christmas is a particularly tough time of year.

With little concrete news of the men coming out of Iraq, the mothers are having to stay strong for the sake of their children.

The kidnapped men have not been fully identified for security reasons.

Roseleen, from Scotland, is married to one of the hostages Alan, last seen on a video this summer.

She said: "My daughter is coping well - she's a bit older but my son is three so he hasn't seen his dad since just before his second birthday.

"He's now three-and-a-half and he's told people his daddy's coming home for Christmas so that's quite sad."

Disturbing videos

The Britons - a computer expert and his four bodyguards - were working in Baghdad's Iraqi Finance Ministry in May last year when they were surprised and surrounded by 40 gunmen disguised as policemen.

They were driven off towards a Shia area and at first there was a news blackout, demanded by the kidnappers, followed by the release of various disturbing videos showing the men making statements, possibly under duress.

We think we are knocking on as many doors as we can to make sure that this is top of the political agenda
Caroline, sister-in-law of one hostage

This summer the kidnappers announced that one of the hostages, Jason, had taken his own life.

The hostage-takers, an obscure Shia militia group, want a straight swap.

They have demanded the release of an Iranian-backed militant called Qais Al-Khazaali, but he is being held by the US who believe he is responsible for the deaths of some of their soldiers.

So far all the negotiations have resulted in a stalemate. Caroline, the sister-in-law of one of the hostages, said the families were doing all they could to secure the Britons' release.

"We as families think that we're pushing as hard on every channel that we can and knocking on as many doors as we can to make sure that this is top of the political agenda."

Wherever they are just stay strong and we'll all be back together one day soon
Jan, a friend of hostage Jason

Gordon Brown raised the issue with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki on his recent visit to Baghdad and was assured the Iraqi government would continue to help in any way it could.

But contact with the kidnappers has been both complex and sporadic, often punctuated by long periods of silence. For the men's families back in Britain the priority this Christmas is to get a message through to the hostages that they are far from forgotten.

Jan, a friend of another hostage, Jason, said: "The message to our men who are out there is just to stay strong. I can only imagine how difficult it is for them in this situation because I know how it feels for the families and the loved ones here.

"But wherever they are just stay strong and we'll all be back together one day soon."

Next month there could well be a new momentum to negotiations for the men's release, with a new president in the White House and British troops preparing to go home, grounds for hoping perhaps that one of Britain's longest running hostage cases will at last be resolved.

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