By Martin Weil and Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Tom Fox, the Virginia peace activist who was taken hostage last year in Iraq, has been found dead, a State Department spokesman said last night. The FBI verified that a body found in Baghdad on Thursday morning was that of Fox, according to the State Department. It was not immediately clear last night when he had been killed or how. Nothing was said immediately about the circumstances leading to the discovery of the body.
Concern for Fox, a 54-year-old resident of Clear Brook, Va., who was kidnapped in November, had risen this week after he was not seen in the broadcast of a video of three fellow kidnapped Christian peace activists.
On Tuesday, al-Jazeera television aired the footage of the three other activists purportedly appealing to their governments to secure their release. A January video, in which Fox had appeared, said all the captives would die unless U.S. and Iraqi authorities released all prisoners held in Iraq.
Noel Clay, a State Department spokesman, said he had no information on the three other hostages. Clay said that "additional forensics" on Fox's body "will be done in the United States."
Fox disappeared Nov. 26 in Baghdad, along with Norman Kember, 74, of Britain, and James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both of Canada. The four worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Toronto- and Chicago-based group that opposes the Iraq war and has criticized treatment of detainees in U.S. and Iraqi jails.
All four had appeared in two earlier videos released by their captors, a little-known group called the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. The group has accused the four of spying for Western governments.
In Baghdad, a U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, said early Saturday that he had no information on the discovery.
Fox, a Quaker, lived in Northern Virginia for more than 30 years before moving to Clear Brook, near Winchester. He was the father of two college-age children and was an assistant manager at a Whole Foods supermarket in Springfield before quitting to join Christian Peacemaker Teams. He had been going to Iraq since September 2004.
Fox was for years a member of Langley Hill Friends Meeting in McLean, which has been holding weekly vigils for his release. Paul Slattery, a member of the meeting, said that he had been in touch with Fox's family and that they wanted to take the lead on any response.
Marge Epstein, a friend of Fox's who attends the meeting, told WRC-TV (Channel 4): "We are absolutely grief-stricken."
Janet Schirch, a friend who had taught Fox at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., said he "knew this might happen when he went to Iraq." She said that like the troops who gave their lives for the security of Iraq, "Tom did that, too. Many, many soldiers have given their lives in Iraq for security, and it's important for Americans to recognize that Tom did that, too."
Fox's death came against a background of numerous kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq. More than 400 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. At least 40 foreigners have been killed, according to the Associated Press. Fox was the seventh American hostage to have been killed in Iraq.
In one of the kidnappings that has received widespread attention, Jill Carroll, 28, an American freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, was seized in Baghdad on Jan. 7 by gunmen who killed her interpreter. Carroll has been shown in three videotapes that were aired in January and February.
In his announcement last night, Clay, the State Department spokesman, said that "additional forensics will be done in the United States."
Clay said Fox's "family has been notified. Our heartfelt condolences go out to them. The State Department continues to call for the unconditional release of all other hostages."
In a statement released last night, Christian Peacemaker Teams said the group mourned Fox, who combined "a lightness of spirit, a firm opposition to all oppression and the recognition of God in everyone." It said his death "pierces us with pain."
After the airing of the video of the three hostages this week, a spokeswoman for Christian Peacemaker Teams, Jessica Phillips, expressed satisfaction at seeing three of the four hostages alive but added, "We do not know what to make of Tom Fox's absence from this video."
The statement added, "We believe that the root cause of the abduction of our colleagues is the U.S.- and British-led invasion and occupation of Iraq."
Hoyt Maulden was a member of Fox's five-person "support team." Last night, a woman who answered the phone at Maulden's Fairfax County home said that Maulden did not wish to comment.
Fox had recognized that his peace activities entailed possible danger. He had left instructions as to what should be done if he was kidnapped. "Under no circumstances did he want any violent efforts to rescue him," Maulden said.
A grainy, silent video aired on al-Jazeera in January showed Fox and the three other hostages, looking gaunt and exhausted. The channel's news reader said the captors were giving U.S. and Iraqi authorities a "last chance" to release all prisoners in their custody. Otherwise, they said, the captives' "fate will be death."
The group had earlier set a Dec. 8 deadline for their execution, later extending it to Dec. 10. The January video was the first sign since the deadline passed that they were still alive.
In December, Fox's daughter, Katherine, made a tape that was seen on al-Jazeera. She said her father had "always been a wanderer."
"He believes that the real purpose of travel is to experience environments other than our own," she said. "When my brother and I were little, our family would visit a different city every year. . . . We got lost on purpose so that we were able to learn a new way back. . . . My father was teaching us to see opportunity in every step, planned or otherwise."
Fox was born in Chattanooga and graduated with a double degree in music performance and education from George Peabody College for Teachers, now part of Vanderbilt University, in Nashville.
An accomplished clarinetist, he spent 20 years playing with the Marine Corps Band, most of that time in the Washington area, said a friend who spoke on condition of anonymity. As a band member, the friend said, Fox was not required to undergo Marine Corps basic training.
Correspondent Ellen Knickmeyer in Baghdad contributed to this report.