Jack Straw says he will talk on Iraq hostages
While unconfirmed reports from an Islamist website suggest that an abducted American security consultant to the Iraqi housing ministry has been executed by militants, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw today made it clear that he would talk directly to the hostage-takers of four Christian Peacemaker Teams activists.
Mr Straw made his comments to journalists on his way into the weekly Cabinet meeting of top UK ministers.
Making a statement outside Number10 Downing Street today, he declared '[I]f the kidnappers want to get in touch with us, we want to hear what they have to say. We have people in Iraq itself and in the region and they are ready to hear from the kidnappers.'
The UK government says that demands, including the release of all Iraqi detainees and the withdrawal of troops are 'impossible to meet', but they clearly still believe that there is room for negotiation.
Across the Arab and Islamic world Muslim leaders, civic groups, pro-Palestinian campaigners, and opponents of the Iraq war have been asking the Sword of Righteousness (Truth) Brigades to release Tom Fox, Harmeet Sooden, James Loney and Norman Kember.
A second tape received from the hostage-takers in 24 hours was released to the Arab news channel al-Jazeera earlier today.
The video footage, which is shaky and unclear, shows Dr Kember, and the three other peace activists kidnapped in Baghdad a fortnight ago, wearing civilian clothing.
It was broadcast not long after a video message showing two of the men bound by their hands and extending the deadline of the threat on their lives by 48 hours to Saturday.
The UK Foreign Office has been co-ordinating a series of intermediary diplomatic operations in Iraq Baghdad to try to secure the release of Dr Kember.
The four Christian Peacemaker Team associates were abducted at Saddam Hussein's Mother of All Battles Mosque in Baghdad, shortly after leaving a meeting with the Association of Muslim Scholars - who have appealed vigorously on their behalf.
They had been discussing human rights abuses by coalition troops. Sunni Muslim clerics are reported to have been saddened and upset by their capture, regarding them as friends of Iraq and innocent civilians. They say that Islam specifically forbids the killing of such people.
It is thought that Swords of Righteousness (Truth) are an independent group, though there have been rumours that some of them may be associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the galvaniser of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Dr Kember's wife, Pat, who went on al-Jazeera with other partners of the abductees a few days ago, issued a fresh plea for her husband's safe release yesterday.
She stated: 'My husband Norman doesn't believe in violence and neither does his family. We believe, as he does, that everyone should live in peace. That is why Norman went to Iraq, because he wanted the Iraqi people to know that there are many people who are sorry for all their suffering.'
Pat Kember added: 'He is a very kind and talented man and he has always tried to use his gifts to help others to make the world a better place. We are missing him, especially his three-year-old grandson.'
Yesterday UK-imprisoned Muslim detainee Abu Qatada made a remarkable plea for mercy to be shown to the captured peace workers. Though detained and accused under Britain's anti-terror laws, he asked to be allowed to make a video to seek their release from his maximum security prison.
Qatada denies UK government claims that he is a key operative for Osama bin Laden in Europe.
[Related articles on Ekklesia: Abu Qatada pleas for Iraq captives as deadline is extended 08/12/05; 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]