British government ‘working urgently’ to free Iraqi captives

London:British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said his government will do “everything we possibly can” to secure the release of five British men kidnapped from a ministry building in Baghdad.

While Blair was speaking during a trip to Libya late Tuesday, British embassy officials in the Iraqi capital were “urgently working” to find out where the men had been taken and who was holding them, officials said Wednesday.

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The Iraqi government had set up a special operations room, and efforts were going on in London to assemble a crisis team that would include hostage negotiators and specially trained units.

The government in London has so far not officially confirmed that the men were taken, and who is holding them.

According to reports, up to 40 kidnappers, dressed in Iraqi police uniforms, took the men from inside the finance ministry building, where a lecture on computer training was going on, and shouted: “Where are the foreigners?”

British reports have suggested that, given the scale and the audacious nature of the operation, there could have been “some connivance” from Iraqi police forces.

Up to 40 vehicles are said to have been used in the abduction.

Four of the kidnap victims are security professionals working for the Canadian-based security firm GardaWorld. The fifth was an expert who was working for the US management consultancy firm BearingPoint.

Canon Andrew White, an Anglican vicar working in Baghdad, who is reported to have known the kidnapped men, told the BBC Wednesday that GardaWorld was doing everything it could to find the missing Britons.

“We are flat out trying to do what we can to find our colleagues,” he said.

White said there were suggestions that the abductions may have been in “revenge” for the killing in Basra last week of Abu Qadir, leader of the militia Mehdi Army in the southern port where British headquarters are based.

According to the Times newspaper Wednesday, Abu Hussein, a commander of the Mehdi army in Basra, said the capture of the Britons was a “reaction” to the killing of its leader.

“It is not only a reaction here but it is the end of the British here. We will take revenge on the British. It is not just this operation but there will be more and bigger operations,” he said.