Four members of a U.S. delegation to Iraq that previously included Austin activist Elce Redmond were taken hostage in that country Saturday by a militant terrorist group, which threatened to kill the individuals by late Wednesday if their terrorist demands were not met.
Tom Fox, James Loney, Norman Kemper and Harmeet Singh Sooden, members of the Christian Peacemaker Team, were kidnapped Saturday by a group calling themselves “The Swordsman.” The four men were driving to Fallujah in Iraq and were taken hostage shortly before arriving to the Iraqi city. The team members have been in Iraq since September. Elce Redmond, a member of the South Austin Coalition, was in Iraq with the group three months ago. Redmond returned to Austin in late September after a two-week stay in Iraq. Redmond reported on his trip to SACCC and was featured in two Austin Weekly News articles on Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, where he recounted his trip to Iraq.
Redmond, SACCC members and community leaders joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson at a news conference Wednesday, calling for the release of the four men.
“I am appealing to the captors to release the hostages as a humanitarian gesture,” Jackson said at a news conference Wednesday morning at Mandell United Methodist Church. “Our hope is that they will pick up on the spirit of those who are calling for an end to the occupation in Iraq and not use the Christian Peacemakers as a trophy.”
Jackson said he is prepared to go to Iraq and negotiate for the men’s release.
Additional members of the Christian Peacemaker Team are in Iraq and are unharmed. The families or the four men have chosen to remain anonymous.
The kidnappers’ demands are unclear, but involve the release of their comrades from prisons, said Redmond.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the four men were still alive. Tom Fox, 54, is a native of Clearbrook, Va.; Norman Kemper, 74, is a native of London, England; James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 33, are Canadian citizens.
The story of the men’s capture was featured on Al Jazeera news in Iraq on Sunday. Redmond said he first learned of his colleagues’ capture on Sunday. Redmond said he and Tom Fox became friends during his September stay in Iraq. The entire team was scheduled to leave Iraq in a couple of weeks, Redmond said.
“I met Tom in Iraq,” said Redmond. “We were with each other every day for two weeks. When you’re with someone in that type of situation, you develop a bond, and we had developed a bond.”
Redmond also personally knew Kemper. He said he had never heard of the Swordsman group. Redmond and other members of the Christian Peacemaker Team were under constant threat of capture or an insurgent attack. Redmond said he and other community activists are also prepared to go to Iraq.
“We were trying to avoid the bombings and kidnappings. The kidnappers finally got them,” he said. “When we all decided to do this, we all knew that this might occur. We want to do what we can to ensure his safe release and that of the others.”