Iraq Abductors Threaten to Kill Captured Peace Activists

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 29, 2006; 11:01 AM

BAGHDAD, Jan. 28 -- The captors of four Christian peace activists kidnapped in November threatened to kill their hostages unless authorities released all prisoners held in Iraq, according to a video aired Saturday on Arab television.

In what has become a grimly familiar sight over the last month, the four gaunt-faced men -- two Canadians, one Briton and an American -- spoke to the camera in a grainy, silent video aired on the Al Jazeera network. The channel's news reader said that their captors, from a group called the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, were giving U.S. and Iraqi authorities a "last chance" to release all prisoners in their possession, "otherwise their fate will be death."

The captors gave no deadline.

The video, dated Jan. 21, was the second to emerge since the Nov. 26 kidnapping of Tom Fox , 54, of Clearbrook, Va., Norman Kember, 74, of London, and James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Sooden, 32, both of Canada. They had been working with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group which is opposed to the war in Iraq and has been critical of the treatment of the detainees in U.S. and Iraqi government's jails.

The first video, which appeared soon after the four were taken, accused them of being spies for Western governments. The group set a Dec. 8 deadline for their execution, later extended to Dec. 10. Saturday's video was the first sign that they were still alive since the deadline passed.

The men, three of whom wore ski caps, were dressed in dark sweatshirts and appeared to be exhausted but unharmed. Kember, a scientist whose kidnapping has attracted considerable attention in Britain, appeared to be wearing the same suit jacket and sweater he wore in the first video.

Rev. Alan Betteridge, the president of the Baptist Peace Fellowship, of which Kember is a member, told the Reuters news service he was pleased to see that the four men were alive, but worried about the threat.

"Please, release these four people who are there, genuinely as non-violent peacemakers," Betteridge told Reuters. "Please let them return home so they may continue their good work, which is for the benefit of people in Iraq and elsewhere."

The kidnappers' new demand came a day after the broadcast of another silent video showing two Germans abducted Tuesday near the northern city of Baiji. In that video, Al Jazeera reported, the captives asked the German government to help secure their release.

It was not clear whether the new demand had any connection to the case of Jill Carroll, an American freelance journalist kidnapped in Baghdad on Jan. 7. A video showing Carroll, 28, came accompanied by demands for the release of all female detainees in Iraq.

On Thursday, U.S. military authorities announced the release of five female Iraqi detainees, but said the decision had nothing to do with the kidnappers' demands. Carroll's captors have made no public statement since the release of those detainees.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company