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Christian agency blames U.S. for kidnappings

2005-11-30 09:33:00

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Christian agency blames U.S. for kidnappings
Last Updated Wed, 30 Nov 2005 05:28:17 EST
CBC News

Christian Peacemaker Teams is blaming the U.S. occupation of Iraq for the abduction of four of its members, including two Canadians.

* INDEPTH: Iraq

James Loney (CP Photo/Christian Peacemaker Teams)

In a statement on its website, the agency spoke about how it is saddened by the kidnappings, and how it has long opposed U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people," according to the web statement.

"We are deeply disturbed by their abduction. We pray that those who hold them will be merciful and that they will be released soon," said the statement.

Two Canadian hostages who were paraded on Arab television by a previously unknown militant group appeared to be unharmed, said a spokesman for Christian Peacemakers.

James Loney, a 41-year-old community worker from Toronto, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, a 32-year-old former Montrealer, had been working for Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq when they were abducted at gunpoint on Saturday, along with two others.

A militant group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade has accused the peace activists of being spies.

The videotaped footage shows four men sitting on the ground, and one of the men's passports. It was broadcast on Al-Jazeera. A time stamp indicates the video was recorded on Nov. 27. Al-Jazeera said it could not verify the information on the tape.

A spokesman for Christian Peacemaker Teams said he was relieved to see the abducted members still alive.

"We were happy to see the faces of our people on the Al-Jazeera tape," said Bob Holmes, a spokesman for Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Holmes said the organization was "very disturbed" by the kidnappers' claim that the hostages were spies and evangelicals, which he strenuously denied.

Doug Pritchard, another Toronto-based spokesman, insisted Loney and the group were in Iraq only for humanitarian reasons.

"They were not there to change anyone's religion, they were there in solidarity with the people of Iraq as they try to build a new society for themselves," said Pritchard.

Pritchard described Loney as a great guy.

"Jim is a fantastic person and if anybody can weather a storm like this, it's James Loney. [Christian Peacemaker] has a lot of credibility on the ground so we're very hopeful, and we just have to pray that this works out," said Pritchard.
Harmeet Sing Sooden (CP Photo/Christian Peacemaker Teams)

Timmins, Ont., MP Charlie Angus first met Loney at a homeless shelter he was running. Loney had come to volunteer, and Angus was struck by the man's passion for those less fortunate.

"He is just always someone who is there on the front lines, never doing it for show, never doing it for grandeur," said Angus. "He just did it, and that's something I've always, always admired Jim for."

This was Loney's third trip to Iraq, and the first one for Harmeet Singh Sooden, an electrical engineer studying for a master's degree in literature in New Zealand.

The other two hostages were identified as Norman Kember, 74, of London, and an American, Tom Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va., a Quaker who has worked with the Christian Peacemaker Teams for the past two years.

"The fact that they're still alive is good news," said Dan McTeague, parliamentary secretary responsible for Canadians abroad.

CPT, based in Toronto and Chicago, is a volunteer organization that sends teams to crisis zones around the world. In Iraq, the group has monitored elections, advocated for prisoners of the Abu Ghraib jail and helped with human rights activities.

Over the past two years, insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped more than 225 people, including four Canadians. At least 38 hostages have been executed including one of the Canadians.

Copyright ©2005 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - All Rights Reserved

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