The Times: The former Archbishop of Canterbury has broken a year-long government news blackout to appeal directly to the group holding five “forgotten” British hostages who were abducted in Baghdad last May.
Sean O’Neill, Crime & Security Editor, and Deborah Haynes in Baghdad
The former Archbishop of Canterbury has broken a year-long government news blackout to appeal directly to the group holding five “forgotten” British hostages who were abducted in Baghdad last May.
Lord Carey of Clifton released a video statement through The Times in which he greeted the hostage-takers as “honourable men” and “men of faith”.
His words were addressed, over the heads of British diplomats and Iraqi government officials, to the kidnappers.
“You believe, as I do, that faith is important in this broken world,” Lord Carey said. “I appeal to you, as good people, to release these men who long to be back home once more.”
The former Archbishop recorded his address yesterday at the House of Lords, accompanied by Canon Andrew White, his former Middle East envoy and now Anglican chaplain to Iraq. Canon White has devoted much of the past year to working with Iraqi religious and tribal leaders to try to open lines of communication and engage in dialogue with the hostage-takers.
He addressed the kidnappers on camera, speaking in English and Arabic, and emphasised that the men held captive were devoted to the rebuilding and restoration of Iraq.
The hostages, four security guards and the IT consultant they were protecting, were abducted at the Iraqi Ministry of Finance on May 29 last year. They were taken by a large group of armed men, many of whom were wearing Iraqi police uniforms. The five hostages are reportedly being held in Iran.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that work was going on behind the scenes and asked news organisations not to publish details of the men’s identities. It also urged the missing men’s relatives not to speak publicly.
In a video released by the kidnappers in December 2007, one of the hostages said: “I feel like we have been forgotten.” The identity of only one of the men has been publicly confirmed – Peter Moore, 57, the IT consultant, who was born in Britain and has relatives here but lives in America, where he is employed by the Bearing Point consultancy.
The security guards worked for GardaWorld, a private security company operating in Baghdad. Two of the captives, Alan and Jason, are from Scotland while the other two, Alex and a second man called Jason, are from Wales.
The father of one of the Scottish captives, who said that his son was married with two children, has also broken his silence to speak to The Times.
He was heavily critical of the Foreign Office’s efforts to free the men. “I want them to get my son back and get all the boys back,” he said. “I realise that they can’t tell us everything that is going on but it seems like a long time since we had any real information. They are British citizens, after all.”
The Times has chosen not to report certain details of the hostages’ current plight because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Canon White said: “We are working hard to make serious contacts. There are positive developments and we really hope we can get our people back. We are told that they are all OK, that they are good.
“It is really difficult, really painful for their families. It is a year now and they wonder when are they going to get their people back – husbands, boyfriends and fathers.
“What we are doing is separate from everything the Foreign Office, the Government of Iraq and the embassy is trying to do. We are working as religious leaders.”
The captors are understood to be seeking the release of two members of a breakaway Shia faction currently being held in Iraq by US forces.
Canon White said: “We are prepared to keep working, after the release of our people, for the release of the people they want to see freed.” Lord Carey, 73, is patron of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East of which Canon White is president. The former Archbishop spent more than a year in Iraq when he did his National Service in the 1950s.
He said he hoped that the captors “share with me a belief in God who is all-compassionate – this is one of the great values of God in Islamic faith”.
A spokesman for GardaWorld said: “This has been a very long haul for the families and, of course, for the hostages, who we are deeply concerned about.
“We are very grateful for all the work which everybody is doing on this case and welcome any help that might deliver the safe return of our friends and colleagues.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We are doing everything that we can to try and secure the safe return of the hostages. We welcome the support being provided to back up those efforts and we remain in close contact with members of all the men’s families.”