awaiting word Wednesday, January 11, from four kidnapped staff members after Arabic television channel Aljazeera aired an appeal for their release from one of Australia’s leading Muslim leaders.
The message was recorded and released over the weekend by Keysar Trad of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia and Donna Mulhearn, an anti-war activist who offered herself as a "human shield" in Iraq during the 2003 US-led invasion.
"It strengthens the case of the enemies of the Iraqi people who are trying to maintain the occupation", said Trad in the recorded message. "I appeal to those holding Harmeet , Jim , Tom and Norman to release them unharmed forthwith," he added.
He suggested that "taking friends of Iraq" like the CPT men hostage is "contrary" to the tradition of Arab and Islamic chivalry and hospitality. Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, US national Tom Fox, 54, and Briton Norman Kember, 74 were seized November 26 outside a mosque in Baghdad.
Militants calling themselves ‘Swords of the Truth’ had threatened to execute them unless all Iraqi detainees were released by the Iraqi prisoners from US and other detention facilities were not met.
Trad suggested in his message the militants kidnapped the wrong people. "Christian Peacemaker Teams in Baghdad does outstanding work on the issue of the human rights of Iraqi detainees and their families. CPT has been drawing attention to the abuse of Iraqis held in prison without charge for a long time and has helped the media and other organizations become aware of the situation," he stressed.
"They have helped so many Iraqi families through the pain of having loved ones go missing. They have been able to find information about their whereabouts and help re-unite families."
Mulhearn, who was briefly held captive by insurgents in Fallujah last year, reportedly worked with several Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteers during her time as a humanitarian worker in Baghdad
She is a close friend of Harmeet, aged 32, a student at Auckland University, New Zealand. "We want those who have Harmeet, Jim, Tom and Norman to know that they came to help Iraqis," Mulhearn said in her appeal, which has been screened on Aljazeera during a prime time slot over a 48-hour period.
In an apparent signal to kidnappers and hostages, CPT issued special New Year’s message in the English and Arab language on its website. "We are sad that you weren’t here to celebrate with us. Some of us stayed up and watched the fireworks from the roof. We hope you are well,’ the statement said.
"Norman, we’ve been especially concerned about you [as] we hope you are getting your medicine. We are also hoping that all of you are getting outside a bit to enjoy the sunshine. Max heard a bird today while sitting on the roof, and hopes that you might hear some of those sounds of nature where you are."
BIRTHDAY IN CAPTIVITY
At least one peace activist celebrated his birthday in captivity. "We noticed that we missed your birthday, Jim. Mabrook on another year. When you return we’ll have cake, and you can have your present," the statement said.
CPT added that staff members in Baghdad "light four candles every morning during worship" for those missing. "You remain with us in our hearts throughout each day," the CPT statement added.
Besides the four Christian peace activists, Jill Carroll, 28, a freelance reporter working for the Christian Science Monitor, was seized by gunmen on Saturday, January 7, the US newspaper confirmed.
Her interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, 32, was shot dead and his body abandoned nearby by the kidnappers, while her driver got away. Several hundred Sunni Arabs protested Tuesday, January 10 the raid on a Baghdad mosque Saturday by US and Iraqi soldiers looking for Carroll, has worked in Iraq since 2003, the newspaper said. (With reports from Iraq and BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).