Search goes on for Christian peacemaker kidnapped in Iraq
The search continues tonight for a Christian peacemaker who has been kidnapped in increasingly lawless Iraq, alongside an American and two Canadians.
Two British Muslims on a religious pilgrimage have also been killed in an indiscriminate bus ambush by insurgents that also injured three other people.
Kidnappee Professor Norman Kember, aged 74, is a long-time advocate of nonviolence. He has been involved both in the Baptist Peace Fellowship and in Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), an international network of religious pacifists.
An opponent of war and occupation in Iraq, Professor Kember had decided to join a two-week visit to the insurgency-torn country.
He had been telling friends, and wrote in a recent FoR newsletter, that he could not remain a spectator any longer. He understood the risks involved, he said.
The team he was working in was established by Mennonites and other historic peace churches in North America. It works to build trust and cooperation among conflicting groups, and works through the invitation and agency of local peace, social justice and human rights workers.
Local security forces and a multinational hostage team are currently searching for all four humanitarian workers.
Speaking on Channel 4 News (UK) this evening, Bruce Kent - a high profile peace campaigner, former Catholic priest, and close friend of Norman Kember - said that he was a strong and resourceful person.
It is uncertain whether the professor has been captured by a group with a political motive, or by one of the hundreds of criminal gangs seeking to make money out of hostage taking in a lawless environment.
Asked whether it was foolish to venture into Iraq under such volatile conditions, Mr Kent said that Professor Kember's Christian faith and peacemaking convictions were such that he was prepared to take risks which other might regard as unwise.
A spokesperson for the Baptist Peace fellowship said that he was a man who lived out his beliefs with courage and compassion.
Late yesterday Elizabeth Colton, from the US Embassy in Baghdad, said that it was looking into reports that an American citizen had been captured. This has since been confirmed.
Dan McTeague, parliamentary secretary for Canadians Abroad, announced the kidnappings of two of his countrymen, but would not identify them or their organization, saying that revealing any further information could place their safety in greater jeopardy.
The British embassy has taken a different view. UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that everything was being done to discover the whereabouts of Professor Kember and to ring him home safely.
Meanwhile, two British Muslims have been killed in a horrific attack on a bus carrying pilgrims to holy sites in Iraq. Saif Uddin Makai and Hussain Mohammed Ali were ambushed near a checkpoint in the Dora neighbourhood, south of Baghdad.
Most international organizations left the war torn country last eighteen months following a wave of kidnappings and beheadings of 5,000 Iraqi and 230 foreign hostages. Many have allegedly been carried out under the auspices of Jordanian al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Aid chief Margaret Hassan and engineer Ken Bigley were two of the high profile victims. Diplomats from Morocco, Egypt and Algeria have been killed in the past six months, but kidnapped Guardian journalist Rory Carroll was released unhurt.
Ekklesia, the UK think tank and news service, is an associate of the group he was working with. Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia commented: 'It is tragic that pilgrims and peacemakers have become victims of the vicious cycle of violence in Iraq. Brave people like Norman Kember are seeking to work with Iraqis - Muslim, Christian and secular - to bring hope in a savage situation.'
Mr Barrow added: 'Many people's thoughts and prayers will be with those who have been captured and their families at the moment. We urge those in positions of influence to do all they can to secure their safe return. But we should also recognize the cause they have risked their security for - the work of his group and other humanitarian groups in Iraq remains dangerous but vital.'
Last week the post-invasion Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said in an interview with a British newspaper that the abuses now taking place in Iraq were now as bad if not worse than those that occurred under hated dictator Saddam Hussein, presently on trial for crimes against humanity.
The UK government is urging Britons not to travel to Iraq at the moment.
[Also on Ekklesia: Christian peacemakers question conduct of Iraq elections; Christian peacemakers report killings of women and children by US forces; Christian peacemaker denied entry to Israel; .Christians challenge US claim about Iraqi torture; Christian peacemakers say coalition force causes Iraqi violence]