Iraqis free militant tied to kidnapping
Shi’ite leader’s group took five Britons hostage
BAGHDAD - The Iraqi government has released the leader of a militant Shi’ite group linked to the 2007 kidnapping of five Britons, a spokesman said yesterday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Alaa al-Taii said Qais al-Khazali was freed Sunday, after his transfer several days earlier from US to Iraqi custody.
Khazali is the head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous. He was detained over an attack that killed five US soldiers in January 2007 in the holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad. After his arrest, his group was linked to the kidnapping of five Britons.
Men wearing military uniforms seized Peter Moore, a 36-year-old computer specialist, and his four bodyguards outside the Finance Ministry in a daring daytime raid in May 2007.
The bodies of three of the bodyguards have been handed over to British authorities. Moore was released alive last Wednesday but the fate of the final hostage remains unknown.
The kidnappers had demanded the release of Shi’ite militiamen, including Khazali and his brother Laith al-Khazali, in exchange for the British hostages. Laith al-Khazali was released in June.
In August, the group agreed to lay down its weapons and join the political process in return for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s promise to seek the freedom of the remaining detainees in US custody.
Qais al-Khazali’s transfer from US to Iraqi custody coincided with Moore’s release. But US officials insisted the events were unconnected, saying the transfer was part of a wider program spelled out in a US-Iraq security deal to free or transfer detainees from US to Iraqi government custody.
Iraqi officials involved in the negotiations said the militant group did not release Moore until it got confirmation its leader was transferred to Iraqi custody.