FREE THEM; Iran Told to Give Up 15 Kidnapped Sailors They Claim Navy Was in Their Waters

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Byline: By CHRIS HUGHES Security Correspondent

FOREIGN Secretary Margaret Beckett yesterday demanded that Iran hand over 15 sailors kidnapped at gunpoint.

She summoned Iranian ambassador Rasoul Movahedian to the Foreign Office in London to explain himself.

Mrs Beckett said she was "extremely disturbed" by events.

She added: "He was left in no doubt we want them back."

The eight Royal Navy sailors and seven Marines, in two patrol boats, boarded a merchant ship suspected of smuggling contraband and weapons in Iraqi waters in the Persian Gulf.

Vessels carrying Iranian Revolutionary Guard surrounded the personnel from frigate HMS Cornwall and took them hostage.

Shortly after their abduction at 10.30am local time yesterday, a helicopter pilot saw the two Royal Navy boats being escorted along the Shatt al-Arab waterway towards Iranian bases.

There were no signs of fighting and the sailors, believed to include one woman were taken away peacefully but "forcibly". HMS Cornwall's commander Commodore Nick Lambert said he hoped it was a misunderstanding over Iranian and Iraqi waters.

He said: "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they British personnel were in Iraqi territorial waters."

But he added: "The extent and definition of territorial waters in this part of the world is very complicated. We may find, and I hope we will, that this is a simple misunderstanding at a tactical level." Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline government is under pressure from the United Nations over its nuclear programme and tension with the West is running high.

And Lieutenant Colonel Justin Maciejewski, commanding officer of British forces in Basra, claimed most of the violence against UK forces there is engineered by Iran. …