By Doug Struck and Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
BAGHDAD, Nov. 29 -- Four Western peace activists, including a longtime resident of Northern Virginia, have been kidnapped in Iraq by a previously unknown insurgent group, and on Tuesday the Arab television network al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape of the men, grim-faced as they sat against a blank wall.
The network said the insurgent group, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, had accused the four of being American spies. The captives are members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, an antiwar organization based in Chicago. They were taken from their car in western Baghdad on Saturday.
The Christian group identified the captives as Tom Fox, 54, a Quaker who was a longtime resident of Springfield, Va.; James Loney, 41, a community activist from Toronto; Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, a Canadian electrical engineer studying in New Zealand; and Norman Kember, 74, a retired professor from London.
In a statement, the Christian organization expressed sorrow over the abductions but directed anger at the United States and Britain.
"We were very saddened to see the images of our loved ones on Al Jazeera television recently," Christian Peacemakers said. "We were disturbed by seeing the video and believe that repeated showing of it will endanger the lives of our friends.
"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," the statement said.
On its Web site, Christian Peacemaker Teams says it is dedicated to reducing international violence and is supported by Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Church of the Brethren and Friends United Meeting.
Fox, who plays the bass clarinet and served in the U.S. Marine Band, worked as an assistant manager at Whole Foods Market in Springfield until two years ago. He had previously worked at the company's store in Reston.
The divorced father of two college-age children, Fox left his job at Whole Foods to become a trained peacemaker bound for Iraq, friends said, adding that he had been concerned about the U.S. reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Since September 2004, Fox has been living in an apartment outside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad with other members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
"When 9/11 happened, he was reading and watching the news and he said he was really overcome by the sense of evil in the world," said Hoyt Maulden, a friend of Fox. "And he was particularly overcome by what he thought was going to be an evil reaction by the United States to the events of 9/11. . . . He wanted to be able to contribute to making peace in the world."
Twice a year, Fox came home from the war front in Iraq for respite and usually spoke to groups at the Langley Hill Friends Meeting in McLean and at the Northern Virginia Mennonite Church in Fairfax City.
Fox had just recently moved from Northern Virginia to Clear Brook, a small town located eight miles northeast of Winchester, where he spent time on his leaves from Iraq. "He moved from this area to live in a loft in a garage behind a church," said Maulden. "He wanted to do that to be around peace and quiet and to be around things that were green after his time in Iraq."
Al-Jazeera said a statement by insurgents that accompanied the video charged the men with "working undercover as Christian peace activists."
Members of Christian Peacemaker said they were well aware of the dangers of doing their work in a war zone. Kimberly Prince, a full-time member of the group who is based in Colombia, said no one had ever been kidnapped in the history of the organization.
"Certainly all of us are aware we are working in war zones and what that means," she said. "It means we are all at risk for the things that everyone in a war zone is at risk for. That includes kidnapping, rape, torture and violence of all kinds. I think people are aware of the risk they are taking when they go into these situations."
Friends said they began hearing Sunday that Fox might have been one of the four workers who were abducted. A prayer service was held Sunday night at the Langley Hill Friends Meeting and about 400 people attended, Maulden said. He said people have agreed to pray each day at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. for the hostages' release.
"He is the most pleasant person you can imagine being around," said Maulden. "He is very low-key, very calm, very centered with a great sense of humor. When he first went over there and began sending back e-mails, he wasn't very good at it because he was giving us a feeling of what was going on around him, but not saying what was going on inside of him. He has gotten so good at describing life there."
The latest kidnappings were among several abductions and other violence reported recently as Iraq prepares for elections on Dec. 15.
In a separate kidnapping, a German woman and her driver were shown sitting blindfolded in another video delivered to a German television network in Baghdad. Family members in Germany said Susanne Osthoff, 43, and her driver had been missing since Friday.
Osthoff has worked in Iraq since the 1990s, speaks Arabic and had been helping distribute medical supplies to Iraqis, her family said. In the video, kidnappers threatened to kill her and her driver unless Germany ends all cooperation with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, according to the Reuters news agency. Germany has no troops in Iraq but has trained Iraqi security forces outside the country.
The British government reported Tuesday that one of five Britons attacked by gunmen south of Baghdad Monday had died of her wounds. Two victims of the attack were killed immediately and the other two were in critical condition, the British Embassy said.
Two U.S. soldiers were killed on patrol Tuesday by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, according to a statement. U.S. military authorities did not immediately release their names.
In Tarmiya, 30 miles north of Baghdad, eight Iraqi soldiers were killed Tuesday when a suicide bomber drove into an Iraqi army patrol, the Associated Press reported.
A prominent Sunni cleric in Kirkuk said police on Monday night had found the body of his son, 30, and a friend, who had disappeared 10 days ago after visiting Baghdad. Sheik Hadi Fakhraldeen Hassani said his son, Bashier, was preparing to travel to Bahrain to represent Iraq in a contest of recitation of the Koran.
Hassani said that his son had been shot twice in the head and that there were drill holes and torture marks on the body. "He had no connection with terrorism," the sheik said.
At least three Iraqis died in violence apparently related to the approaching national elections. An official of the Shiite Dawa party, Basjhar Shnawa Gaber, was shot dead in Baghdad on Monday, another party official said Tuesday.
Four campaign workers were shot in Mosul, in northern Iraq, as they posted campaign material for the Christian Assyrian party. Two of them died and two were critically injured, according to a spokesman for the political party.
In Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein, gunmen kidnapped a former colonel in Hussein's Republican Guard on Monday evening, according to his family.
"They brandished their guns and took my father with them without giving any reason," said a teenage daughter of Dhafar Hardan Mijuel, 55. She said a group of gunmen arrived at the family home on the pretense of asking about renting the house.
Mijuel had been detained by U.S. forces and was released only a few months ago, said his father, Hardan Mijuel, 78. When he was released, he went to Amman, Jordan, for safety, but returned to care for his wife and five children, the father said.
Dwyer reported from Washington. Special correspondents Salih Saif Aldin in Balad and Dlovan Brwari in Mosul, staff researcher Bobbye Pratt, and staff writer Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report.