As of Saturday, the four members of the Christian Peacemakers Team taken hostage in Baghdad several weeks ago are believed to still be alive.
Their captors, an Islamic terrorist group calling themselves the “Swords of Righteousness Brigade,” extended the deadline on their lives to Saturday, Dec. 11, from the original deadline of Dec. 8.
“It’s just a waiting game right now, just trying to find out what’s going on,” said Austin activist and South Austin Coalition member Elce Redmond, who was part of the teams’ Iraq delegation in September.
Tom Fox, James Loney, Norman Kemper and Harmeet Singh Sooden, members of the Christian Peacemaker Team, were kidnapped Nov. 26, while driving to the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
News of their capture was released Sunday Dec. 3, on Al-Jazeera television in Iraq, and a video of the hostages was shown. The four men were shown sitting underneath two crossed swords mounted on a wall behind them.
Their captors threatened to kill the men by Dec. 8 unless all Iraqi detainees were released from U.S.-occupied prisons. The deadline was extended to this past Saturday. Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va.; Kemper, 74; Loney, 41; and Sooden, 33, are believed to be alive.
Activists nationwide, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have called for the men’s release. Other CPT members remain in Iraq under anonymity, said Claire Evans, The organization’s delegation coordinator.
CPT learned of the capture shortly after Nov. 26.
“It’s pretty intense,” said Evans of the last few weeks. “I’ve been here for seven years. This is as intense as it has gotten.”
Fox and Loney, Evans said, were long-serving members of the peace/intervention advocacy organization. Kemper and Sooden were two of the newest members. The organization has been in Iraq investigating charges of Iraqi detainee abuses and promoting peace in the region.
The organization will not disclose information on remaining members still in Iraq, said Evans.
Kemper and Sooden were part of a short-term delegation to Iraq, which lasts about 2-4 weeks, Evans said. The two men were in Iraq for only a few days before their capture. Redmond was part of two-week delegation in September.
Fox and Loney were full-time members who spent close to a year in Iraq. Both were there during Redmond’s stay.
The Christian Peacemaker Team has sent delegations to Iraq since 2002. This latest delegation was the 16th since ’02.
“It’s pretty difficult,” said Evans of the current ordeal. “We’re committed to continuing the work. I don’t think this incident has made us question our work and our mission. It’s important to know why our people are over there; to hear the voices of the people in Iraq and get a perspective on what’s going on over there.”
The families of the four captive men have made brief public statements asking for the loved ones’ release.
“We know that our James would be overwhelmed by the grassroots support that he is receiving. We are too,” reads part of a statement released by the Loney family. “We have come to a fuller understanding of the effect that his humanitarian work for peace has in the world.”
Fox’s daughter Katherine has made press statements and appeared on ABC’s Nightline last week asking for her father’s release and the others. Family members have limited their media access for safety reasons.
CPT members have been able to chronicle their Iraqi experience. The last entry by Tox Fox in his blog “Waiting in the Light” was made on Nov. 8.
“The ongoing difficulties faced by Fallujans are so great that words fail to properly express it,” Fox wrote. “Words are inadequate, but words are all we have. Words like ‘collective punishment’ and ‘ghettoize’ come to mind for the current state of life in Fallujah.”
Little is known of the men’s captors, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. The terrorist group believed the four men to be U.S. spies, according to news reports. “This group popped out of nowhere. If they had some kind of leadership or were a part of some other group, that would be one thing, but we don’t know who to talk to,” Redmond said. “And we can’t offer them anything anyway. The only thing we could negotiate with is some kind of humanitarian relief. That’s the only appeal.”
Last Wednesday, Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Redmond and other West Side community and religious leaders in calling for the men’s release during an Austin press conference at Mandell United Methodist Church. Jackson said he’s willing to go Iraq and negotiate a release.
More than 100 non-Iraqis, including U.S. citizens, have been taken hostage since the end of the U.S. war on Iraq in 2003.
“They’ve made their point,” said Redmond of the CPT captors. “Other organizations have spoken out and made it clear that these are not the guys you should harm.”