Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown says two British hostages in Iraq are very likely dead but the government believes a third kidnapped man is still alive.
Alec MacLachlan and Alan McMenemy were among five Britons abducted by Shiite militants disguised as policemen outside Iraq's Finance Ministry in May 2007.
Brown said the families of MacLachlan and McMenemy were informed last week that they are believed to be dead.
The bodies of two other British hostages, Jason Swindlehurst, 38, and Jason Creswell, 39, were returned to England in June.
Brown said Wednesday that Peter Moore, a technology consultant, was believed to be alive.
The families agonized Wednesday over a report the two died in captivity, begging the kidnappers to free the men.
Families 'deeply troubled'
The families then issued a statement noting they were "deeply upset and troubled" by the reports.
"We ask those holding our men for compassion when so many are working hard for reconciliation in Iraq," the statement said. "And we continue to pray for the safe return of our men."
The fate of the hostages has been murky ever since Shiite militants disguised as Iraqi policemen abducted the five Britons. Since then, the men have only been seen in videotapes made by their captors.
The fate of Peter Moore — the technology consultant they were guarding — is unknown, while the bodies of two other British hostages, Jason Swindlehurst, 38, and Jason Creswell, 39, were returned to England in June. The men, who worked for the Canadian security firm GardaWorld, suffered multiple gunshot wounds.
Moore's grandmother, Edna Moore, 84, said the family could only wait.
"We can only hope," she said. "God help the other families... There's not much we can do, we feel so helpless."
Hope rose in June
Hopes for the men had risen after the release in June of Laith al-Khazali, a Shiite militant who had been held in U.S. custody. The kidnappers want nine militiamen released, including al-Khazali's brother, Qais al-Khazali, in exchange for the British hostages.
Laith al-Khazali, a Shiite militant allegedly backed by Iran, was released as part of national reconciliation efforts between the Iraqi government and groups that renounce violence. He and his brother were accused of organizing a daring attack on a local government headquarters in Karbala that killed the five U.S. soldiers on Jan. 20, 2007.
If the hostages are found to have been harmed, it could impact on delicate negotiations between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and al-Khazali's Asaib Ahl al-Haq group — or League of the Righteous — which was aimed at getting the group to disarm and play a role in politics once the hostages had all been freed.