London: Britain on Wednesday hailed the release of a computer expert seized in Iraq in 2007 after an "unspeakable" kidnap ordeal during which three bodyguards taken with him were killed and a fourth is feared dead.
The family of Peter Moore, 36, welcomed the surprise news, while the British government said it was due to improved reconciliation in the violence-scarred country -- although questions were immediately raised about how he was freed.
"It`s like a big black cloud has been hanging over me and it has lifted now," said Moore`s mother Avril Sweeney, 54, adding: "Two-and-a-half years and, all of a sudden, it`s not there anymore. I can smile again."
Prime Minister Gordon Brown added: "I am hugely relieved by the wonderful news that Peter has been freed, and will be reunited with his family as quickly as possible."
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Moore had experienced an "unspeakable two and a half years of misery, fear and uncertainty."
He said he was "in a remarkable frame of mind" given the prolonged ordeal he had suffered.
He added that the Briton had been freed by his captors in Baghdad and delivered to the Iraqi authorities. "He is now in the care of the British embassy in Baghdad," he said.
Moore, an IT consultant working for US firm BearingPoint, was seized along with his four bodyguards from the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in May 2007, by some 40 gunmen from a group called the League of the Righteous.
The bodies of bodyguards Jason Swindlehurst, 38, and Jason Creswell, 39, were handed over to Britain in June, followed by that of Alec MacLachlan in September.
The fate of the fourth bodyguard, Alan McMenemy, is unknown, but British officials say they believe he is dead. "I demand that the hostage takers return him to us," said Brown.
Miliband said the release of Moore had been secured following bolstered reconciliation between former rival factions, driven by the Iraqi government.
"That process of reconciliation has made possible Peter Moore`s release today. I hope it will lead also to the end of the scourge of hostage-taking and violence."
In Baghdad, a government spokesman echoed the comments, saying: "Iraq always supported the efforts to release all the hostages... This step comes within the context of Iraqi government efforts to achieve national reconciliation."
But questions have long been asked about what was happening behind the scenes over the last two and a half years to try to secure the five Britons` release.
Shortly after Moore`s release was announced, a spokesman said the US Army had handed over several prisoners to the Iraqi government.
And a source inside the League of the Righteous, the group responsible for his Peter Moore`s kidnap, said negotiations were underway to ensure that among the several hundred detainees being transferred was the group`s leader.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement: "The Iraqi government has started to receive prisoners from the American forces, and will treat them according to Iraqi law.”
"With those where is no proof of criminality, they will be freed."
He did not explicitly refer to any deal, nor give details on how many detainees were being handed over, or whether they included Qais al-Khazaali, the leader of the League of the Righteous.
But a senior source within the group, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "There are negotiations to free 400 prisoners, including Qais al-Khazaali, in exchange for releasing Peter Moore."
British media reports suggested that, while the British government has always insisted it does not pay ransoms or offer "substantive" concessions to hostage-takers, money had been offered by at least one other source.
For Moore`s family, how his release was secured was less important.
"We are so relieved and we just want to get him home, back now to his family and friends," said his father Graeme, 60. "I`m breaking down, I`m just so overjoyed for the lad. It`s been such a long haul."