BAGHDAD (AP) – Al-Jazeera broadcast video yesterday of four Western peace activists held hostage by a previously unknown group, part of a new wave of kidnappings police fear is aimed at disrupting next month’s elections.
The news station said the four were seized by the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, which claimed they were spies working under the cover of Christian peace activists. The captives – an American, a Briton and two Canadians – were members of the Chicago-based aid group Christian Peacemaker Teams, which confirmed they disappeared Saturday.
The footage showed Norman Kember, a retired British professor with a shock of white hair, sitting on the floor with three other men. The camera revealed the 74-year-old Kember’s passport, but the other hostages were not identified.
Christian Peacemaker Teams identified the other hostages as Tom Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va.; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, a Canadian electrical engineer.
The brief, blurry tape was shown the same day German TV displayed a photo of a blindfolded German archaeologist being led away by armed captors in Iraq. The kidnappers threatened to kill Susanne Osthoff and her Iraqi driver unless Germany halts all contacts with the Iraqi government.
Also yesterday, two American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, a Sunni cleric was assassinated as he left a mosque, and six Iranian pilgrims were seized near a Shiite religious shrine.
In a statement, Christian Peacemaker Teams said it strongly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and blamed the kidnapping on coalition forces.
“We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people.
Christian Peacemaker Teams does not consider itself a fundamentalist organization, a spokeswoman said.
“We are very strict about this: We do not do any evangelism, we are not missionaries,” Jessica Phillips told The Associated Press in Chicago. “Our interest is to bring an end to the violence and destruction of civilian life in Iraq.”
Its first activists went to Iraq in 2002, six months before the U.S.-led invasion, Phillips said, adding that a main mission since the invasion has been documenting alleged human rights abuses by U.S. forces.
The German woman and her Iraqi driver were kidnapped Friday, the German government announced. ARD public television said it obtained a video in which the kidnappers made their threats. The station posted a photo on its Web site showing what appears to be Osthoff and her driver blindfolded on the floor, with three masked militants standing by, one with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Osthoff’s mother told Germany’s N24 news station that her daughter was an archaeologist who was working for a German aid organization distributing medicine and medical supplies since before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Germany has ruled out sending troops to Iraq and opposed the U.S.-led war, but has been training Iraqi police and military outside the country. Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed for Osthoff’s release.
“The German government sharply condemns the act and urgently appeals to the perpetrators to return both safely and without delay,” Merkel said. “The German government will do everything in its power to bring both back to safety.”