Five British hostages who were kidnapped in Iraq almost a year ago are being held inside Iran by Revolutionary Guards, according to two separate sources in the Middle East and London.
The hostages were handed over to the Revolutionary Guards by their Iraqi kidnappers last November, the sources believe. One of the sources said they were being held in the western Iranian city of Hamadan.
If confirmed, the involvement of Revolutionary Guards would be seen as evidence that senior figures in the Iranian government had backed the decision to hold them in the country.
However, British officials said that while there had been rumours that the five were in Iran, they had seen no evidence to support the idea.
The hostages are said to be in good physical shape but spending much of their time in solitary confinement.
According to one of the sources, they are under the control of Mohammad Safaei, 41, a senior Revolutionary Guard colonel who was previously in charge of special operations in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
The hostages were kidnapped in Baghdad last May in an attempt to force the Americans to release Qais al-Khazaali, an Iraqi militia leader said to be close to the Revolutionary Guards.
Khazaali was apparently being groomed by Iran to take control of a breakaway faction of the Mahdi Army, a Shi’ite militia, that would be compliant with Tehran. A former chief spokesman for the Mahdi Army, Khazaali was arrested by US troops after masterminding a raid inside a base in which five US soldiers were killed. The Americans have refused to release al-Khazaali in exchange for the British hostages.
One of the sources, who has close links to the Revolutionary Guard, said the captors were looking for a face-saving way of freeing them. They have suggested the hostages write to church leaders in the UK asking for assistance in gaining their release, the source said.
The five were abducted from the Iraqi finance ministry, where one of them, Peter Moore, a computer specialist, was teaching data-processing. The other four were his bodyguards.
The suggestion that the hostages are in Hamadan follows contradictory claims earlier this month that they were in Tehran. This is the first time it has been claimed they are in the hands of Revolutionary Guards. One of the sources has previously proved to be a reliable source of information about them.