Four Western Christian Peace Activists Kidnapped in Iraq

The kidnapping of four Western Christian NGO workers in Iraq was confirmed on Tuesday, highlighting the insecurity of the war-torn country.

The kidnapping of four Western Christian NGO workers in Iraq was confirmed on Tuesday, highlighting the insecurity of the war-torn country.

On Tuesday, the Arab television network al-Jazeera broadcasted a videotape showing four kidnapped men held by a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. The group reportedly released the footage and accused the four captives as spies, according to Canadian Press (CP).

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a Chicago-based international Christian peace organization, later confirmed in a very brief statement posted up on its website that the "four human rights workers missing in Baghdad on Nov. 26 are associated with our organization."

"All we know is that they were abducted in ... the western part of Baghdad," spokesman Robert Holmes, of the CPT office in Toronto, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday.

CPT has cancelled a scheduled news conference about the update on the hostage-taking on Tuesday without stating specific reasons, CP reported. CPT has also showed reluctance in confirming the kidnapped workers as part of its organization and identifying them individually.

A detail statement from CPT was not released until Wednesday, stating CPT’s response and giving the profile of each of the victims.

The apparent captives are identified as Thomas W. Fox, 54, from Virginia; Professor Norman Kember, aged 74, from London; James Loney, aged 41, from Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, aged 32, a Canadian who has recently been studying in New Zealand.

CPT called for prayers for the four kidnapped workers, stating, "We were very saddened to see the images of our loved ones on Al Jazeera television recently. We were disturbed by seeing the video and believe that repeated showing of it will endanger the lives of our friends. We are deeply disturbed by their abduction."

On the other hand, CPT expressed anger over the abduction and lamented that it was "the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments." It criticized the two governments’ "illegal attack on Iraq" as well as "the continuing occupation and oppression of Iraqi people."

In response to the captors’ accusation of spying, the CPT Iraq Team sternly denied.

"We fear that whoever is holding them has made a mistake,” the team stated. “Norman, Tom, James and Harmeet are four men who came to Iraq to work for peace and explain their opposition to the occupation. They are not spies."

"CPT has worked for the rights of Iraqi prisoners who have been illegally detained and abused by the U.S. government," argued CPT in the statement, while calling itself "some of the few internationals left in Iraq who are telling the truth about what is happening to the Iraqi people."

"We hope that we can continue to do this work and we pray for the speedy release of our beloved teammates," CPT appealed to the captors.

According to the CPT’s website, the organization has a long-term presence in Iraq since October 2002, six months before the beginning of the U.S. led invasion in March 2003. CPT supports nonviolent alternative to war and places violence-reduction teams in crisis situations and militarized areas around the world.

The conditions of the kidnapped workers are not very clear so far. Nevertheless, Kimberly Prince, a member of CPT’s Chicago office, told the news agency Bloomberg that CPT "does not want U.S.-led military forces to attempt to free the hostages."

"We never want violence to be used to save our lives," Prince said.

According to CP, Dan McTeague, the parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs said on Monday, "We are doing whatever we can to try to provide an outcome that would see them freed." He refused to reveal any details of kidnapping, but commented it was "very regrettable."

The Foreign Office of the U.K. has denounced the kidnapping, according to BBC. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Monday he had been in touch with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hohshyar Zebari about the abduction.