Kidnappers Extend Deadline to Saturday; Pleas for Hostages Continue

Pleas for the lives of the four kidnapped Christian peace activists in Iraq poured in as the captors extended for 48 hours the Thursday deadline they initially set to kill the hostages.

The U.S. and British governments now have until Saturday to meet the demands of a group that calls itself “the Swords of Righteousness,” according to a report on Qatar-based AL-Jazeera network.

Accompanying its statement Wednesday, the group also posted a video of two of the hostages wearing robes and shackled with chains.

The four hostages – one America, one British and two Canadian – were taken in Baghdad two weeks ago, sparking a public outcry from religious and political leaders around the world.

In statements made yesterday, various Christian leaders joined in on the condemnation and called for the safe return of the peace activists.

“We believe that all violence is wrong, and that the action of kidnapping cannot be justified under any circumstance. We pray for those who are holding the Christian Peacemaker Team volunteers, and for all those who are unjustly detained,” a statement by the Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., read. “We ask that the volunteers be released immediately, so that we might all continue to work for peace in a troubled land.”

According to the Associated Press, the brief videotape of the hostages was transmitted by Al-Jazeera, and did not show the faces of the two robed and shackled figures. However, still photos provided by Intel Center – a government contractor that does support work for the U.S. intelligence community – revealed that the two were American Tom Fox and Briton Norman Kember.

The two anti-war peace workers, along with Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, have been accused by kidnappers of being spies. The kidnappers have demanded for the release of all detainees in British and U.S. custody to be released, however both governments have made it clear they will not meet the ransom demands.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Britain issued a fresh appeal for the kidnappers and sought communication with the hostage-takers.

"As I have said before, if the kidnappers want to get in touch with us, we want to hear what they have to say. We have people in Iraq and the region and they are ready to hear from the kidnappers," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

"Norman Kember and his colleagues are campaigners for peace, dedicated to help others. We ask for their release," said the foreign secretary, who issued an initial appeal on Wednesday for the kidnappers to make contact.

"We remain in close touch with Mrs Kember and it is hard to imagine the terrible distress that Mr Kember's family are suffering throughout this ordeal. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them."