BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government has released the leader of a militant Shiite group linked to the 2007 kidnapping of five Britons, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Alaa al-Taii said Qais al-Khazali was freed on Sunday, following his transfer several days earlier from U.S. to Iraqi custody.
Al-Khazali is the head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous. He was detained over an attack that killed five U.S. soldiers in Jan. 2007 in the holy city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad.
After his arrest, his group was linked to the kidnapping of five Britons.
Men wearing military uniforms seized Peter Moore, a 36-year-old computer expert, and his four bodyguards outside the Finance Ministry in a daring daytime raid in May 2007.
The bodies of three of the bodyguards have been handed over to British authorities. Moore was released alive last Wednesday but the fate of the final hostage remains unknown.
The kidnappers had demanded the release of Shiite militiamen, including al-Khazali and his brother Laith al-Khazali, in exchange for the British hostages. Laith al-Khazali was released in June.
In August, the group agreed to lay down its weapons and join the political process in return for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's promise to seek the freedom of the remaining detainees in U.S. custody.
Qais al-Khazali's transfer from U.S. to Iraqi custody coincided with Moore's release. But U.S. officials insisted the events were unconnected, saying the transfer was part of a wider program spelled out in a U.S.-Iraq security deal to free or transfer detainees from U.S. to Iraqi government custody.
Iraqi officials involved in the negotiations said the militant group did not release Moore until it got confirmation its leader was transferred to Iraqi custody.