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Iraqi Militant Leader Linked To Hostages Freed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraqi officials have released a Shi'ite militant leader, an Interior Ministry official said today, raising hopes that the last of five British hostages captured in Baghdad more than 2 1/2 years ago would be returned.

"According to the information available to us, Qais al-Khazali was released the day before yesterday," said Alaa al-Taii, the head of the Interior Ministry's media division.

Khazali is the leader of Asaib Al-Haq, the Shi'ite militia group believed to be behind the 2007 abduction of computer programmer Peter Moore and his four bodyguards from a Finance Ministry building in Baghdad.

Neither Iraqi nor British officials have publically linked the release of Asaib Al-Haq leaders to efforts to free or recover the bodies of the British hostages. But Khazali's brother Laith was freed in June shortly before the bodies of two of the guards were handed to British authorities.

Moore was released alive last week, and the bodies of three of his guards were returned last year. That leaves only guard Alan McMenemy, who British officials believe is dead.