The leader of an Iraqi Shi'ite militia who kidnapped British bodyguard Alan McMenemy in 2007 said Thursday he was killed trying to escape and it was willing to return his body without conditions.
McMenemy was kidnapped by Asaib al-Haq, or Leagues of Righteousness, along with computer programmer Peter Moore and three other British bodyguards. Moore was released in 2009.
Qais al-Khazali, a Shi'ite cleric who leads the militia, said all four bodyguards were killed trying to escape from their captors. He did not say when the escape attempt took place.
The bodies of the three other bodyguards were returned when Moore was released.
The brothers told me that those four bodyguards tried to escape ... They took advantage of a negligent moment and took the weapon of one of their guards and the clash ensued and led to this result. We honestly are sorry for that incident, Khazali told Reuters in an interview Wednesday.
Peter Moore was in another place. They (the kidnappers) knew how important he was and they were expecting a raid or something else. In addition to that, Peter was a civilian and they knew that it was unexpected that he would be any kind of risk.
But the confrontation happened with the four guards and led to all of them being killed.
Asked why Asaib had not returned McMenemy's body to his family - leading to speculation that the guard was still alive - Khazali said the militia was prepared to hand over the remains unconditionally.
We have no problem. We have been ready to hand him over for a while. We have no specific demand to hand him over and we have no problem in handing him over. It is a logistical issue.
Britain's Foreign Office said it was aware of the report on Asaib al-Haq's offer.
It has been a horrendous ordeal for everyone involved. We are working with the Iraqi authorities and others to bring this matter to resolution, said a Foreign Office spokeswoman, adding that the family would not issue any response.
Moore said he had been waiting a long time for his fellow hostage's body to be released and that its return would bring closure to the kidnapping.
It's never going to go away from any of our lives, but it is important to move on. We don't have to forget but we have to keep living. This is the end of the chapter, it's the end of the book, he told Britain's Channel 4 News.
Asaib al-Haq splintered from the Mehdi Army militia of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. It was long believed to be behind the kidnapping of Moore and his guards, who were taken from a Finance Ministry building in central Baghdad at the height of the sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S. invasion.
Khazali said the militia was also responsible for a sophisticated 2007 attack in which five U.S. soldiers were killed in the city of Kerbala. Guerrillas posed as Americans, wore uniforms similar to U.S. troops and carried U.S.-type weapons to get past Iraqi security checkpoints.
U.S. officials say the militia is funded by Iran.
A final answer on the fate of McMenemy, who along with the other bodyguards worked on a contract for Canadian security firm GardaWorld, would mark an end to the longest hostage saga involving Britons since the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s.
(Writing by Jim Loney; Additional reporting by Tim Castle in London; Editing by Angus MacSwan)