Group who captured five Brits in Iraq releases 'distressing' video message.
The group that kidnapped five Britons in Iraq in May 2007 claimed one of the victims has committed suicide, in a video statement released to The Sunday Times.Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who paid a surprise visit to British troops in Iraq Saturday, described the reports as "distressing" and called for the hostages' immediate and unconditional release.
A Foreign Office spokewoman said the ministry had no "independent verification of the claims in this video" and added that she could not comment on its accuracy.
The video from a group calling itself the Shi'ite Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which was posted on the newspaper's website, begins with the photo of a man, identified as Jason, appearing alongside the Arabic text of the statement.
According to the English translation provided by The Sunday Times, it claims that the hostages had slipped into depression and made "more than one attempt at suicide."
It goes on to say that Jason committed suicide on May 25, 2008, blaming the "procrastination, and foot-dragging, and lack of seriousness on the part of the British government."
The Sunday Times said the video was handed to one of the newspaper's representatives by an intermediary, who said that proof of the victim's death would only be provided if the British government agreed to negotiate.
The video, entitled "Intihar", Arabic for suicide, called for the release of nine prisoners being held in Basra in return for the freedom of the hostages.
It then showed video footage of a second man, named by The Sunday Times only as Alan, who said on camera that while he had been treated "very good, to say the least", he was "not doing well" physically and added: "Psychologically, I'm doing a lot worse."
He called on the British government to "please hurry" and "get this resolved as soon as possible."
In a statement released by his Downing Street office, Brown, who is now in Tel Aviv on a tour of Israel and the West Bank, said: "Clearly this is a very distressing development. We are taking this very seriously."
"There are many people working behind the scenes trying to find a solution. I raised the case of these men with [Iraqi] Prime Minister [Nuri Al-] Maliki. We both share a desire to see them returned safely to their families. I call on those holding the hostages to release them immediately and unconditionally."
While in Iraq, Brown said London wanted to cut the number of Britain's troops in Iraq but ruled out any "artificial timetable" for their withdrawal.
As well as Maliki, Brown also met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and several Iraqi MPs, holding talks on the security situation and economic development.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband, meanwhile, said in a statement that the latest communication from the hostage takers "will cause deep distress and concern to the families of the five men."
He added that British officials in Iraq "continue to be ready to work with anyone prepared to help in this case."
The foreign ministry was "in close contact with the men's families to offer all possible support," Miliband said, and was also working closely with "the Iraqi Government and with others in Iraq who recognise the need to find a way forward."
The men - an IT consultant and his four bodyguards - were seized by 40 gunmen wearing police uniforms in a daring kidnapping at the Iraqi finance ministry in Baghdad on May 29, 2007.
The computer expert has been named as Peter Moore, from the eastern English city of Lincoln, who was working for US management consultancy BearingPoint.
The identity of the other four men has not been revealed, although it is known they were employed by Canadian security firm GardaWorld to guard Moore.
The Shi'ite Islamic Resistance in Iraq have previously released two videos of their captives.
One of the videos, released in December 2007, showed one of the hostages and demanded that Britain pull out of Iraq within 10 days, but did not say what the consequences would be if it failed to do so.