Page last updated at 18:00 GMT, Thursday, 31 December 2009

Freed hostage Peter Moore tells of time in captivity

Peter Moore
A newly-released picture of Mr Moore (left) shows how he has changed

Freed British hostage Peter Moore has told how he was subjected to "rough treatment" while in captivity but treated well in the final six months.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said Mr Moore had told his family that from June he had even had access to a TV and a Playstation.

Our correspondent said Mr Moore and his bodyguards were separated soon after their kidnapping in Iraq in May 2007.

The Guardian has claimed Mr Moore and his four bodyguards were held in Iran.

Three of the bodyguards were killed; the fourth is also thought to be dead.

Iran has dismissed reports of its involvement as "baseless", the AFP news agency has reported.

'House arrest'

Frank Gardner said that since June, Mr Moore had been given markedly better treatment by his captors, effectively placed under house arrest, with en suite facilities, access to satellite TV, a laptop - though not online - and a Playstation.

This was in contrast to much rougher treatment earlier on in his captivity.

Our correspondent said that Mr Moore's bodyguards were treated by their captors as "military personnel", in contrast to Mr Moore, who was treated as a civilian.

Mr Moore is expected to return to the UK within days.

The Guardian reported that all five were taken to a camp in Iran within a day of being seized.

The UK Foreign Office said it had seen the "speculation" about Iran's role in the kidnappings.

A spokesman added: "Iran of course has an influence in Iraq, but we have no evidence to substantiate claims of direct involvement in this case."

ANALYSIS
Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner
The findings in the Guardian's year-long investigation into alleged Iranian involvement in kidnapping Britons in Iraq are being disputed by both British and Iraqi government officials.

A senior Foreign Office official said that while it was "not impossible" that the British hostages had, at some stage, been taken across the border into Iran, that did not mean the Iranian authorities themselves were behind the kidnapping.

The British government view remains that there is no firm evidence to suggest Iranian government involvement.

But the Guardian is sticking by its story which includes interviews with a number of people who say Iran's Revolutionary Guards were behind the kidnapping.

The Foreign Office agrees there are close links between the kidnappers and Iran's Revolutionary Guards who have provided them and other Iraqi militias with training, funding and weapons.

US General David Petraeus, the US's top military commander in the region, told the BBC earlier this month that he thought "it was 90% certain" the Britons had been held in Iran.

But our security correspondent said this was "not the same as saying that this was directed from the top by the Iranian leadership".

The Guardian quoted an unnamed former Revolutionary Guard saying: "It was an Iranian kidnap, led by the Revolutionary Guard, carried out by the al-Quds brigade."

The newspaper also said a serving Iraqi government minister with close links to Iran had told its reporter it was an Iranian Revolutionary Guard operation.

'Absolutely confident'

But Sami al-Askari - an MP and a senior adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki - has denied the Guardian's allegation that Iran masterminded the kidnap.

The newspaper also alleged that, as the chief negotiator, he flew to Iran several times to talk with the hostage-takers, which he has also denied to the BBC.

Mr Askari said he had been involved in talks with the kidnap group inside Iraq, which were continuing over the whereabouts of the final hostage Alan McMenemy, who is thought to be dead.

THE GUARDIAN'S ACCOUNT
Map
Kidnap takes place at Finance Ministry in Baghdad
Hostages taken to Sadr City
Guardian claims the hostages are later taken to various locations in Iran, including camps at Qasser Shiereen and Tehran Pars

Guardian journalist Maggie O'Kane, who was involved in the investigation, told the BBC: "We are absolutely confident of the work we have done on the story."

Frank Gardner said the paper's investigation did not provide conclusive proof the men had been taken to Iran.

But he said the witnesses appeared to be credible and some had been re-interviewed by the BBC.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the Guardian's reports "emanate from the British anger towards the rallies in which millions of Iranians took part to condemn British interference in (Iran's) internal affairs," according to the AFP news agency.

Brown thanks Iraqis

Mr Moore spent the night after his release at the British Embassy in Baghdad, where he has received medical attention and support as he prepares to return to the UK. He will also receive formal debriefing sessions.

Downing Street said Prime Minister Gordon Brown had spoken to his Iraq counterpart Nouri Maliki on Thursday to thank him for his efforts in the release of Mr Moore.

"They also discussed shared concerns for Alan McMenemy," said a spokesman.

Frank Gardner: "Relations between London and Tehran could hardly get any worse"

The bodies of Mr Moore's British guards Jason Swindlehurst, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, and Jason Creswell, of Glasgow, were returned to the UK in June 2009, followed by that of Alec MacLachlan, of Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, in September.

Mr Moore had been working for US management consultancy Bearingpoint in Iraq, while the other men were security contractors employed to guard him.

The kidnappers were understood to belong to an obscure militia known as the Islamic Shia Resistance, which demanded the release of up to nine of their associates held in US military custody since early 2007.

Several had already been handed to the Iraqi government and some had since been freed under the reconciliation process.

Frank Gardner said a senior Whitehall official had confirmed Qais Al-Khazaali - the leader of the kidnap group - was released "very recently" by the US to the Iraqi authorities.

Mr Khazaali had been suspected of involvement in the kidnapping and eventual killing of five US soldiers, he added.



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