Abu Qatada pleas for Iraq captives as deadline is extended
Not long after UK-imprisoned Muslim detainee Abu Qatada made a remarkable plea to show them mercy, the armed group holding four Christian peace activists hostage in Iraq has extended the deadline for their possible execution by 48 hours, to Saturday.
The news was made known by Arabic TV station al-Jazeera, which released new images from the Swords of Truth (Righteousness) Brigade showing four people dressed in orange outfits with their hands in shackles. There were no other identifying features.
The kidnappers have said they will kill the men if US and UK detainees in Iraq are not released. But Muslim leaders, Palestinian activist and Islamic groups say they are innocent friends of Iraq who should be released unharmed.
That was also the message from a radical Muslim cleric jailed in the UK under suspicion of terrorist activity, which he denies.
Abu Qatada is described by the media as 'one of Britain's highest-profile Islamic extremists'. He is alleged by intelligence agencies to be Osama bin Laden's ambassador in Europe. recorded.
Qatada, speaking in Arabic, made his TV appeal in a special broadcast from Belmarsh high security prison after requesting to do so through his solicitor, the human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce - who also worked for Irish prisoners during the northern Irish troubles.
The cleric addressed Sword of Righteousness directly, saying he was 'your brother Abu Qatada, Omar bin Mahmud Abu Omar, who is imprisoned in Full Sutton jail in Britain.'
He went on, 'I urge you to release the four prisoners in Iraq. This is a merciful act according to the principles of Islam.'
It has recently emerged that at least one of the men (Tom Fox, Harmeet Sooden, James Loney and Norman Kember) was kidnapped in or near a mosque in Baghdad, where the Christian peacemakers were talking to Muslim clerics about the effort to track down and help detainees.
Sunni leaders and Muslim scholars in Iraq, together with Palestinian activist across the occupied West bank, have made strong pleas for the men to be released.
The extended deadline is some indication that negotiations with their captors may be proceeding, and last night former CND general secretary and ex-catholic priest Bruce Kent, a friend of Baptist Norman Kember, said that Abu Qatada's request could be crucial.
Christian Peacemaker Teams is encouraging all faith communities and secular friends to organise vigils and prayers - not only for their abducted co-workers, but for all Iraqi detainees. They are also calling for an end to the US-led occupation in Iraq.
There are two other Western hostages in Iraq, and many hundreds of Iraqis who have been kidnapped, often by criminal gangs. German aid worker, Susanne Ostoff is a Muslim convert, and Frenchman Brent Blanche has been working at a water treatment plant.
Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers) with support and membership from a range of Catholic and Protestant denominations. Supporting violence-reduction efforts around the world is its mandate.
[Full and chronological related articles on Ekklesia: Christian Peacemaker Teams full briefing (with links to features and stories on CPT's work); Why are we here? (by CPTer Tom Fox); Christians criticize UK Iraq war budget increase 08/12/05; Christian peacemakers say the work must go on 08/12/05; Last minute appeals made for Christian peacemakers 07/12/05 ; Muslim detainees plead for lives of Christian peacemakers 06/12/05; Faith groups in the US unite to back Iraq captives 06/12/05; French engineer seized in Iraq 05/12/05; Norman Kember's wife pleads for his life 04/12/05; Iraqi, Muslim and Palestinian support for peace hostages grows 04/12/05; Insurgents say they will kill Christian peacemakers 02/12/05; WCC calls for freeing of Christian peace workers 02/12/05; Vigils and messages of support for abducted peace activist 02/12/05; Palestinian bishop seeks mercy for Iraq peace workers 02/12/05; Anti-war campaigner flies to Iraq to plead for Christian peacemakers 01/12/05; Muslims urge release of Christian peacemakers missing in Iraq 01/12/05; Al-Jazeera releases film of Iraq peace hostages 30/11/05; Search goes on for Christian peacemaker kidnapped in Iraq 28/11/05. Key book: Patricia Gates-Brown (ed.), Getting in the Way: Stories from Christian Peacemaker Teams, Herald Press]