Al-Jazeera releases film of Iraq peace hostages
The headline-making Arabic news service Al-Jazeera has aired video footage from a previously unknown militant group showing four kidnapped peace activists affiliated with a Christian organization in Iraq, alongside a statement from the group calling them spies.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a respected international organization that places violence-reduction units in crisis situations around the world, has confirmed the Briton, American and two Canadian men are affiliated with them.
CPT today identified the apparent captives as Thomas W. Fox, aged 54, from Virginia, USA; Professor Norman Kember, aged 74, from North London in the UK; James Loney, aged 41, from Toronto, Canada; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, aged 32, a Canadian who has recently been studying in New Zealand.
Dr Kember is a Christian pacifist, a trustee of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and active in the Baptist Peace Fellowship. He is married with two daughters and a 3-year-old grandson and is a retired professor of medicine.
Mr Fox is a father of two children and has worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq for two years.
Mr Loney, leader of the CPT delegation, is a community worker who has been a CPT activist for over five years. He has taken testimonies from families of detainees for CPT's report on detainee abuse.
Mr Sooden, from a Sikh background, is an electrical engineer studying for a postgraduate degree in English literature at Auckland University.
Christian Peacemaker Teams, established by Mennonites and other historic peace churches in North America, seek to build trust and cooperation among conflicting groups, and works through the invitation and agency of local peace, social justice and human rights workers.
CNN has reported that in the four-minute, 40-second video, each man gives his name and age. The camera then pans across 14 identification cards - including driver's licenses, credit cards and a passport - from all of the hostages except Loney.
According to Al-Jazeera, the group, which calls itself The Swords of Justice, said the four worked as spies under the cover of "the Christian Peace group."
Christian Peacemaker Teams rigorously disputes the group's claim, pointing out that they have a long history of opposing violence - including the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, and abuses committed by Western security forces.
In a media announcement, CPT said: "We were disturbed by seeing the video and believe that repeated showing of it will endanger the lives of our friends. We are deeply upset by their abduction."
The statement continued: "We pray that those who hold them will be merciful and that they will be released soon. We want so much to see their faces in our home again, and we want them to know how much we love them, how much we miss them, and how anxious and concerned we are by what is happening to them."
Christian Peacemaker Teams added: "We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the US and UK governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people."
The organization's teams have "worked for the rights of Iraqi prisoners who have been illegally detained and abused by the US government. We were the first people to publicly denounce the torture of Iraqi people at the hands of US forces, long before the Western media admitted what was happening at Abu Ghraib."
The group has three other members in Baghdad, and there were no immediate plans to remove them, a CPT spokesperson said.
Ekklesia, the UK think tank and news service, is an associate of Christian Peacemaker Teams UK. Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia commented: 'It is tragic that peacemakers have become victims of the vicious cycle of violence in Iraq. Brave people like these 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 Christian Peacemaker Teams and other humanitarian groups in Iraq remains dangerous but vital.'
The UK, American and Canadian governments say they are doing all they can diplomatically and they are urging their citizens 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]