Speculation continues over kidnapped peace workers in Iraq - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
January 4, 2006

Speculation continues over kidnapped peace workers in Iraq

-04/01/06

With no concrete news for nearly a month on the situation facing four Christian Peacemaker Teams workers abducted in Iraq, speculation over their plight continues.

But CPT itself says that the best course is for the public to continue to focus on vigils and awareness raising activities.

According to a former CIA intelligence consultant and terrorism expert, who now teaches politics at Auckland University in New Zealand, a ransom may be being negotiated for the men at the moment.

The US, British and Canadian governments look unfavourably on such deals, but if the kidnappers see financial gain as a possibility it remains an option.

No publicly acknowledged contact has been made with the group calling itself Swords of Truth Brigades, who seized Tom Fox, Norman Kember, Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden outside a Baghdad mosque on 26 November 2005.

The captors threatened to kill the men if the United States and Britain did not free Iraqi detainees. But a second deadline passed on 8 December and nothing has been heard since.

Detainees are being gradually freed, but the authorities and their allies in the coalition forces insist this has nothing to do with such demands.

Paul Buchanan, the Auckland geopolitical scientist, says he believes the four may have been captured by a criminal gang and are likely to still be alive.

"This is not the work of a jihadist group but a criminal group and the silence is good news", he has told journalists in New Zealand.

That no word had been heard from the kidnappers most probably meant they were negotiating a ransom, he declared.

Some 80 per cent of humanitarian workers kidnapped in Iraq and later set free have been taken by groups who have been paid a ransom sum.

Italians reportedly paid the equivalent of 1.5 million US dollars for the release of one man, says Buchanan.

Following the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, more than 200 international workers or visitors and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped. At least 40 hostages have been killed.

Apart from criminal gangs, often involved in arms or drugs trafficking, there are a number of significant insurgent groups as well as people associated with al-Qaeda in Iraq.

If the peace workers have been captured by hardened militants, the chances of their release are smaller ñ and there has apparently been no response yet to many appeals for mercy by Islamist organisations and high-level Muslim leaders.

Muslim envoys from Canada and Britain have also been unable to produce visible results yet, though they remain hopeful.

But some security experts say that the fact that there has been no sign of an execution video is good news.

Others suggest that the men may simply have been ëdisappearedí to avoid the political consequences of either killing or releasing them - an option which would be chilling for friends and relatives.

ìIt is not pleasant to think about these things, but those who are working for the menís release have to examine the different possibilitiesî, a war studies researcher told Ekklesia. ìWhat must be emphasised, however, is that we have no hard information.

Last month the Toronto Star said that local Iraqi negotiators had been in touch with the captors, but had then been kidnapped themselves. However it has failed to substantiate or verify this claim.

Paul Buchanan is a forthright and respected writer and commentator on geopolitics both from a New Zealand perspective and internationally. His book: ëWith Distance Comes Perspectiveí was published last year.

The book looks at the complexities of security and foreign affairs policy and examines the cause and effect of manoeuvres advanced by the powers in Iraq, the Middle East and the Islamic world in general.

Meanwhile Christian Peacemaker Teams say that the most constructive steps people can take are to join vigils, make appeals, and work for an end to illegal detentions and occupation.

They are keen to keep the profile of the men in the public eye, a difficult task when there is no hard news.

[Also on Ekklesia: Updates on the FaithInSociety blog. News excerpts: Lack of evidence for Iraq negotiator abduction claim; Fears 'unfounded' over Iraq hostage negotiator; Sooden family know nothing of Iraq negotiator abduction claim; Freeing of German hostage brings hope to Iraq peace workers; New appeal for release of Iraq peace workers; Christian peacemakers challenge Bush claim that Iraq war is being won; British Muslims in fresh plea for Norman Kember; French engineer seized in Iraq; Baptists urge support for Norman Kember; Iraq peacemaker describes the agony of waiting]

Speculation continues over kidnapped peace workers in Iraq

-04/01/06

With no concrete news for nearly a month on the situation facing four Christian Peacemaker Teams workers abducted in Iraq, speculation over their plight continues.

But CPT itself says that the best course is for the public to continue to focus on vigils and awareness raising activities.

According to a former CIA intelligence consultant and terrorism expert, who now teaches politics at Auckland University in New Zealand, a ransom may be being negotiated for the men at the moment.

The US, British and Canadian governments look unfavourably on such deals, but if the kidnappers see financial gain as a possibility it remains an option.

No publicly acknowledged contact has been made with the group calling itself Swords of Truth Brigades, who seized Tom Fox, Norman Kember, Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden outside a Baghdad mosque on 26 November 2005.

The captors threatened to kill the men if the United States and Britain did not free Iraqi detainees. But a second deadline passed on 8 December and nothing has been heard since.

Detainees are being gradually freed, but the authorities and their allies in the coalition forces insist this has nothing to do with such demands.

Paul Buchanan, the Auckland geopolitical scientist, says he believes the four may have been captured by a criminal gang and are likely to still be alive.

"This is not the work of a jihadist group but a criminal group and the silence is good news", he has told journalists in New Zealand.

That no word had been heard from the kidnappers most probably meant they were negotiating a ransom, he declared.

Some 80 per cent of humanitarian workers kidnapped in Iraq and later set free have been taken by groups who have been paid a ransom sum.

Italians reportedly paid the equivalent of 1.5 million US dollars for the release of one man, says Buchanan.

Following the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, more than 200 international workers or visitors and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped. At least 40 hostages have been killed.

Apart from criminal gangs, often involved in arms or drugs trafficking, there are a number of significant insurgent groups as well as people associated with al-Qaeda in Iraq.

If the peace workers have been captured by hardened militants, the chances of their release are smaller - and there has apparently been no response yet to many appeals for mercy by Islamist organisations and high-level Muslim leaders.

Muslim envoys from Canada and Britain have also been unable to produce visible results yet, though they remain hopeful.

But some security experts say that the fact that there has been no sign of an execution video is good news.

Others suggest that the men may simply have been ëdisappeared' to avoid the political consequences of either killing or releasing them - an option which would be chilling for friends and relatives.

'It is not pleasant to think about these things, but those who are working for the men's release have to examine the different possibilities', a war studies researcher told Ekklesia. 'What must be emphasised, however, is that we have no hard information.

Last month the Toronto Star said that local Iraqi negotiators had been in touch with the captors, but had then been kidnapped themselves. However it has failed to substantiate or verify this claim.

Paul Buchanan is a forthright and respected writer and commentator on geopolitics both from a New Zealand perspective and internationally. His book: ëWith Distance Comes Perspective' was published last year.

The book looks at the complexities of security and foreign affairs policy and examines the cause and effect of manoeuvres advanced by the powers in Iraq, the Middle East and the Islamic world in general.

Meanwhile Christian Peacemaker Teams say that the most constructive steps people can take are to join vigils, make appeals, and work for an end to illegal detentions and occupation.

They are keen to keep the profile of the men in the public eye, a difficult task when there is no hard news.

[Also on Ekklesia: Updates on the FaithInSociety blog. News excerpts: Lack of evidence for Iraq negotiator abduction claim; Fears 'unfounded' over Iraq hostage negotiator; Sooden family know nothing of Iraq negotiator abduction claim; Freeing of German hostage brings hope to Iraq peace workers; New appeal for release of Iraq peace workers; Christian peacemakers challenge Bush claim that Iraq war is being won; British Muslims in fresh plea for Norman Kember; French engineer seized in Iraq; Baptists urge support for Norman Kember; Iraq peacemaker describes the agony of waiting]

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