Fri, Mar 24, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Three foreign hostages freed in Iraq

AFP , LONDON

Two Canadians and a British hostage held in Iraq were freed early yesterday in a multinational military operation that took weeks of planning, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

"The three hostages -- Norman Kember, a British hostage, [and] two Canadian hostages -- have been released as a result of a multinational force operation which took place earlier today," he said in an impromptu statement to BBC TV.

"British forces were involved in this operation. It follows weeks and weeks of very careful work by our military and coalition personnel in Iraq and many civilians as well," he said.

Canadians Harmeet Sooden, 32, and Jim Loney, 41, and Kember, 74, were from the peace group Christian Peacemaker Teams and were abducted on Nov. 26 along with American Tom Fox, 54, who was killed by their captors two weeks ago.

The peace activists' abduction was claimed by a group calling itself the "Brigades of the Swords of Righteousness" which threatened to kill them unless all Iraqi prisoners were released.

The surviving trio were found west of Baghdad, US Colonel John Snow said earlier. Snow declined to say who found them or how they were released.

A Downing Street spokesman said British Prime Minister Tony Blair "is delighted by the news. He is particularly pleased for those released and their families."

Straw refused to go into details about the operation, but noted that their release was tempered by the death of Fox, which he said was "a matter of great sorrow to everybody."

He said Kember was in a "reasonable condition" and recovering in Baghdad's secure "green zone," but that Loney and Sooden needed hospital treatment.

"I have, on the two occasions I have been to Iraq since Christmas, spoken to the great team that has been involved in trying to secure the release of the hostages," he said.

"It is the result of a team effort involving military and civilian personnel from a number of countries, including, let me say, Canadian personnel who I was able to meet when I was in Baghdad last," he said.

"I am delighted we now have a happy ending to this ordeal, for Norman Kember, for his family, for the Canadian hostages and for their families as well," he said.

Straw could not say when Kember would be returning to Britain.

"That's a matter to be decided," he said.

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