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FIVE British hostages who were kidnapped in Iraq last year may be being held in Tehran, the Iranian capital, according to intelligence reports received by the Foreign Office.
The disclosure, supported by two security sources in London and officials in Iraq, means that any rescue attempt by British special forces would be almost impossible.
The latest intelligence follows statements last year by General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq, that he believed the five men had been abducted by a group funded, trained and armed by Iran.
Petraeus stopped short of commenting on their whereabouts.
Four of the hostages were security men. They were guarding Peter Moore, a computer specialist.
The group was abducted in an apparently well planned operation on May 29 last year. About 40 heavily armed men dressed in police uniform stormed the finance ministry in Baghdad where Moore was training staff.
A senior official in Basra confirmed that the hostages were all in Iran. “You have to understand that the groups that kidnapped these men are affiliated to Iran,” he said.
“Iran acts as the embracing mother for them in their acts and deeds and will also benefit from the situation. It is their haven.”
He said that a British photographer working for CBS, who was kidnapped from his hotel in Basra last month, has also been taken to Iran but officials in London were unable to confirm this.
A group funded, trained and armed by Iran was responsible for kidnapping five British civilians in Baghdad last month, according to the commander of US forces in Iraq.
General David Petraeus told The Times yesterday that he believed that the men, four security guards and a consultant, were alive and added that there had been repeated attempts to free them. No demands have been made for their release.
Commandos searching for the hostages have staged a series of raids on suspected terrorist hide-outs. “There have been several operations to try to rescue them, we just have not had the right intelligence,” General Petraeus said. “There is a very intensive effort ongoing to try to locate and rescue them.”
The remarks are the first official acknowledgement of secret hostage rescue efforts that the British authorities refuse to comment on. They are also likely to inflame relations with Iran further. The general said that the terrorist cell responsible had very close ties to the Iranian authorities, but he fell short of accusing Tehran of complicity.