LONDON Two Britons taken hostage in Iraq in 2007 were feared dead after bodies were handed to British officials in Iraq and three others still missing were in "grave danger," the British government said on Saturday.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the remains passed to them by Iraqi authorities had yet to be formally identified, but the hostages' families will "fear the worst."
"We know only that late last night we received the bodies of two hostages," he said. "Our immediate priority is obviously to liaise with the families and to work on the identities of these men.
"If any proof was needed of the grave danger that those hostages face, it is the appalling news that has come through today. The threat to all those taken hostage in Iraq remains very high indeed."
The Britons, computer instructor Peter Moore and his four bodyguards, were seized by a Shi'ite militant group from inside an Iraqi finance ministry building in Baghdad in May 2007.
Britain was an ally of the United States in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but has now withdrawn all but about 500 troops from the country.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said: "Our information is that the two bodies were handed last night to the British authorities and we believe they are from among the British hostages."
A spokesman for Canadian security company GardaWorld, which employed Moore's four British bodyguards, said he was waiting for more information before commenting.
"We are obviously anxious to learn more as to what the situation is," he said.
Several videos of the hostages have surfaced since they were kidnapped. In March, Channel 4 News television said a video showed a healthy-looking Moore.
In February 2008, another video featuring Moore was aired by Dubai-based Al Arabiya television in which he called on British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to free nine Iraqis in return for their freedom.
A video released in December 2007 showed another of the captives who identified himself as Jason saying the militants holding the Britons would kill one of the five unless Britain withdrew its troops from Iraq.
Miliband said the government was "working intensively" toward securing the release of the hostages, but warned: "I also have to say that the threat to them remains very high indeed."
He said the government would not give in to the hostage-takers' demands.
"We cannot get into a position where the British government starts making concessions for hostage taking," he said. "The only result of that would be more hostage taking. What we can do is use all of our links to the government of Iraq."
The British Embassy in Baghdad had no immediate comment.