Western Aid Workers in Iraq

March 23rd, 2006 - by admin

Edward Wong & Christine Hauser / New York Times – 2006-03-23 23:28:30


Western Aid Workers in Iraq
Rescued in Military Operation

Edward Wong & Christine Hauser / New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq (March 23) — Three Western peace workers who were held hostage in Iraq for four months were rescued in a military operation today, two weeks after their American colleague was killed in captivity.

The three men — James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both from Canada; and Norman Kember, 74, of Britain — had been kidnapped last November along with the American man, Tom Fox, in Baghdad while working with the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Mr. Fox’s body was found this month. He had apparently been tortured by his captors before being shot multiple times in the head and dumped on a trash heap next to a railway line in western Baghdad.

“Our hearts are filled with joy today as we heard that Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember have been safely released in Baghdad,” said a statement from the peace group. “Together we have endured uncertainty, hope, fear, grief and now joy during the four months since they were abducted in Baghdad.”

The delegation coordinator for the group, Claire Evans, said by telephone that Mr. Loney, a 41-year-old Canadian, had contacted his family this morning from the Green Zone, the fortified compound in Baghdad where some American military forces, Iraqi government offices and the American Embassy are located.

“He said that they were all in reasonable health,” she said, adding that the three men were undergoing medical checks.

The men were freed by multinational forces in a military operation.

The hostages were found when American-led forces raided a house in western Baghdad, acting on information from one of two detainees interrogated late Wednesday night, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for the American military, said at a news conference in Baghdad. The kidnappers were not in the house. The men were in “relatively good condition,” he said.

In London, the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said the mission had included British forces.

“It follows weeks and weeks of very careful work by military and coalition personnel in Iraq and many civilians as well,” Mr. Straw said, adding that it involved a number of countries, including Canadian personnel.

Mr. Straw said that Mr. Kember was in “reasonable” condition and that the two Canadians had to have hospital treatment. He said he had spoken with Mr. Kember’s wife. “Of course, it goes without saying that she is absolutely delighted, elated, with this news,” Mr. Straw said.

The Loney family released a statement today saying that Mr. Loney had been released unharmed with his two companions.

“What a joyful day this is,” the family’s statement said. “We have just learned that James is coming home.” The statement also expressed sympathy for Mr. Fox’s family.

The Christian Peacemaker Teams organization promotes peace and human rights in conflict zones.

On March 7, all but Mr. Fox appeared on a tape shown by the Arab television network Al Jazeera. The tape was dated Feb. 28 and showed the three men talking, though the video was silent. Before that, the hostages, including Mr. Fox, were seen on a video released Jan. 28.

The Swords of Righteousness Brigade, an insurgent group, has said it was holding the men and threatened to kill them if all Iraqi prisoners were not released.

In an interview with the Canadian network CBC, Mr. Loney’s brother, Ed, said Mr. Loney had told his parents in the phone call from the Green Zone that he was well.

“He was concerned about us, about family and about other people who were worried about him,” Ed Loney said. “Which is pretty typical for Jim — put others first before himself.”

He said he did not know when his brother would return to Canada but he imagined how they would celebrate.

“Have a meal, and maybe play some cards and just listen to each others’ stories, and sit across the table and look at each other, and hold hands and give each other hugs and just do what we can to support each other,” Ed Loney said.

Kidnappers in Iraq have taken both foreigners and Iraqis hostage to press their demands for ransom, or often portraying the hostages on videotape pleading for foreign troops to withdraw from Iraq or for Iraqi prisoners to be freed.

Jill Carroll, a freelance writer for The Christian Science Monitor who was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad, is still missing. Since her abduction, she has appeared in three videotapes accompanied with messages that convey her kidnappers’ demands.

Today, at least 18 people were killed in two car-bomb attacks in Baghdad that struck a police patrol and the headquarters of a major crimes unit, according to the Interior Ministry. The casualties included five civilians and 13 police, while 32 police and civilians were wounded.

Edward Wong reported from Baghdad and Christine Hauser reported from New York for this article.

Statement By Loney Family:
“Oh, what a joyful day this is! “

“We have just learned that James is coming home. He has been released unharmed, with his companions Harmeet and Norman.
“We would like to thank everyone for their support and prayers. At this time, we would also like to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Tom Fox.

“Please let us rejoice in this family moment as we prepare for the days to come.”
Statement By Christian Peacemaker Teams
“Our hearts are filled with joy today as we heard that Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember have been safely released in Baghdad. Christian Peacemaker Teams rejoices with their families and friends at the expectation of their return to their loved ones and community.

“Together we have endured uncertainty, hope, fear, grief and now joy during the four months since they were abducted in Baghdad.

“We rejoice in the return of Harmeet Sooden. He has been willing to put his life on the line to promote justice in Iraq and Palestine as a young man newly committed to active peacemaking.

“We rejoice in the return of Jim Loney. He has cared for the marginalized and oppressed since childhood, and his gentle, passionate spirit has been an inspiration to people near and far.

“We rejoice in the return of Norman Kember. He is a faithful man, an elder and mentor to many in his 50 years of peacemaking, a man prepared to pay the cost.

“We remember with tears Tom Fox, whose body was found in Baghdad on March 9, 2006, after three months of captivity with his fellow peacemakers. We had longed for the day when all four men would be released together.

“Our gladness today is made bittersweet by the fact that Tom is not alive to join in the celebration. However, we are confident that his spirit is very much present in each reunion.

“Harmeet, Jim and Norman and Tom were in Iraq to learn of the struggles facing the people in that country. They went, motivated by a passion for justice and peace to live out a nonviolent alternative in a nation wracked by armed conflict.

“They knew that their only protection was in the power of the love of God and of their Iraqi and international co-workers.

“We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq. The occupation must end.

“Today, in the face of this joyful news, our faith compels us to love our enemies even when they have committed acts which caused great hardship to our friends and sorrow to their families.

“In the spirit of the prophetic nonviolence that motivated Jim, Norman, Harmeet and Tom to go to Iraq, we refuse to yield to a spirit of vengeance.

“We give thanks for the compassionate God who granted our friends courage and who sustained their spirits over the past months.
“We pray for strength and courage for ourselves so that, together, we can continue the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace.

“Throughout these difficult months, we have been heartened by messages of concern for our four colleagues from all over the world. We have been especially moved by the gracious outpouring of support from Muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Europe, and North America.

“That support continues to come to us day after day.

“We pray that Christians throughout the world will, in the same spirit, call for justice and for respect for the human rights of the thousands of Iraqis who are being detained illegally by the U.S. and British forces occupying Iraq.

“During these past months, we have tasted of the pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Why have our loved ones been taken? Where are they being held? Under what conditions? How are they? Will they be released? When?

“With Tom’s death, we felt the grief of losing a beloved friend. Today, we rejoice in the release of our friends Harmeet, Jim and Norman. We continue to pray for a swift and joyful homecoming for the many Iraqis and internationals who long to be reunited with their families.

“We renew our commitment to work for an end to the war and the occupation of Iraq as a way to continue the witness of Tom Fox. We trust in God’s compassionate love to show us the way.

“Living through the many emotions of this day, we remain committed to the words of Jim Loney, who wrote:

“With God’s abiding kindness, we will love even our enemies.

With the love of Christ, we will resist all evil.
With God’s unending faithfulness, we will work to build the beloved community.”