led forces free all Iraqi prisoners.
In a new video shown Saturday, January 28, by the Arabic television news channel Aljazeera, the four hostages, Briton Norman Kember, American Tom Fox and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, were shown standing against a wall in an unknown location.
The four appeared to be speaking to the camera in the video tape, dated January 21, but their voices could not be heard. A statement received along with the tape and read on air said the kidnappers were giving a "last chance" for US and Iraqi authorities to "release all Iraqi prisoners in return of freeing the hostages otherwise their fate will be death".
Aljazeera did not give details on how it obtained the tape, which was about 55 seconds long. US and other officials have criticized the channel for broadcasting messages from militants, but the network has said it was doing its journalistic job.
Carol Rose, a US-based coordinator for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) organization, told reporters she could not comment immediately as they were still waiting to see the tape. However CPT’s Regional Group Development Coordinator, Sara Reschly told BosNewsLife earlier that the group remains "hopeful they will be released soon."
NO VIOLENT RESCUE
CPT, an international conflict reduction organization, has stressed however it would not accept a "violent" operation to free its four kidnapped staff members. They were kidnapped on November 26 in Baghdad, where they were working with CPT, which has a permanent office there.
CPT has been working in Iraq since October 2002, investigating allegations of abuse against Iraqi detainees by American and Iraqi forces. Its teams host human rights conferences in conflict zones, promoting peaceful solutions.
The hostages are being held by the previously unknown Swords of Truth group. It threatened to kill the hostages by December 10 unless Iraqi prisoners were released, but the deadline was then extended by two days and expired on December 12. There had been no news of the hostages since then.
On Monday, January 23, the wife of the 74-year-old Kember appealed for the release of her ailing husband in a televised message.
A friend of Kember, Chris Cole, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) he was relieved to hear news from the hostages "after such a long period of silence". But Cole stressed relatives "we’re extremely concerned and extremely worried about how they’re looking and how they’re dealing with the ordeal."
He said he was sure that there was dialogue between the hostages and their captors. "Norman’s a man of great faith and we very much hope that they’re all together – that will keep up their sprits. But, obviously, Norman’s 74 – it’s a very difficult time and we hope and pray that he remains strong."
Kember was last seen in a video aired on Aljazeera in early December, blindfolded and with his hands tied.
CPT has posted English language and Arabic message on its website in an apparent attempt to reach both the hostages and the kidnappers. "Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you. We light four candles every morning during worship, and you remain with us in our hearts throughout each day," CPT’s Iraq team said in a recent New Year’s message.
Muslim scholars and activists from around the world, including leaders of the Hamas and Hezbollah groups, have reportedly appealed for the release of the aid workers.
Over 250 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and up to 50 have been killed. Human rights groups say the Western Christians are not the only believers kidnapped in the country. Barnabas Fund and other groups have reported that Iraq’s Christian minority has seen many kidnappings as well as killings and intimidation.
Among other hostages still unaccounted for is American reporter Jill Carroll, 28, who was abducted January 7 in Baghdad. Her kidnappers have demanded the release of all Iraqi women in custody. In published remarks the US military said this week’s release of five Iraqi women from military custody was coincidental and not in response to the ultimatum.
Washington has officially refused to negotiate with "terrorists" and others part of the insurgency in Iraq. (With reports from Iraq, BosNewsLife News Center and BosNewsLife Research)