Iraq: Abducted Peace Activists Probably in the Hands of Criminals
B a g h d a d / L o n d o n (EBPS) - The British Baptist Prof. Norman Kember, abducted along with three other Christian activists in Iraq on 26 November, is probably in the hands of criminals and not politically- or religiously-motivated groups. Such is the conclusion of terrorism expert Paul Buchanan, a former CIA intelligence consultant.
Buchanan, a professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, assumes that ransom negotiations are presently taking place. In two videos the kidnappers have called themselves the “Swords of Truth Brigades”. Those being held hostage besides Kember (74) are the US-American Tom Fox (54), the Canadian James Loney (41) and Harmeet Singh Sooden (32). The four are members of a Christian Peacemaker Team. The captors have threatened to kill their hostages unless all prisoners held in US- and local government-run prisons are freed. Two deadlines passed before the middle of December; there has been no official contact with the hostage takers since then.
In Britain Christians are regularly holding prayer vigils for Kember and his colleagues. One silent vigil takes place every week in central London. The Baptist congregation in Harrow near London, to which Kember and his wife Pat (72) belong, also holds regular prayer services. Rev. David Coffey (Didcot), President of the 34-million-member Baptist World Alliance, and others have participated in the Harrow services. The European Baptist Federation (EBF) has also appealed for prayer for the hostages. Three large British demonstrations in Petersborough, Cambridge and London have been held to draw attention to their fate. All Christians are called to pray daily at 12 noon for the release of the hostages.
Relatives of the hostage victims have used advertisements in Iraqi press, radio and television to appeal for their release. One of their declarations reads: “Our loved ones were kidnapped in Iraq. Many clerics and religious figures from the Arab and Muslim world have spoken over the past weeks of the good work they were doing in Iraq and they have called for their release. We appeal to you to help us ensure the safe return of our relatives. If you have any information which can help, please call this number. You do not have to reveal your identity."
The London “Times” reports that Pat Kember has appealed on Arab satellite television for a sign of life from her husband. British government circles hope that the hostage takers will respond to this request.
It has also become known that the Baghdad offices of a Muslim organisation which had appealed for releasing the hostages were ransacked.
Christian Peacemaker Team offices in Toronto report that a team member will be flying to Baghdad on Friday, 20 January. Allan Slater, a 70-year-old dairyman, intends to remain in Baghdad for six weeks in order to express his solidarity with the people of Iraq. “We would abandon our friends if we left Iraq,” he stated when explaining the reason for his trip. He has already been in Iraq four times. He hopes that the four will be released during his sojourn in Iraq. Slater also sees a political statement in his travels: “Wars are usually begun by old men who send young men into battle and to their deaths. It is high time that some old men do what they can to tell the world about what really happens in war.” He does not reckon this trip to be more dangerous than previous ones.
The Christian Peacemakers in the USA are of a different opinion. CPT-worker Doug Pritchard (Chicago) reports: “In light of the present situation we have decided to postpone the departure of a team for Iraq scheduled for February 2006.”