US, UK blamed for kidnappings

OCCUPATION: The group Christian Peacemaker Teams said the abduction of four of its activists in Iraq was the result of the US and UK's `illegal attack' on the country


Thu, Dec 01, 2005 - Page 6

A peace group blamed the US and Britain yesterday for the abduction of four activists shown in an insurgent video, saying the kidnapping was the direct result of the occupation of Iraq.

Meanwhile, in the central town of Baquba, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a minibus early yesterday, killing nine construction workers and wounding two others, the Diyala police said in a statement.

After a hiatus in the kidnapping of foreigners, TV footage on Tuesday once again showed Westerners held captive: a German archaeologist -- bound and blindfolded -- knelt among masked gunmen in one video and four frightened peace activists were shown in another blurry tape.

The latest attacks are part of a new wave of kidnappings police fear is aimed at disrupting next month's national elections.

Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group that has had activists in Iraq since October 2002, said it was saddened by the video tape of their workers, who the statement said were working against the occupation of Iraq.

"We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the US and UK governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people," the group said.

The group listed the names of those abducted as Tom Fox, an American; Norman Kember, from Britain; and James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both of Canada.

"We are some of the few internationals left in Iraq who are telling the truth about what is happening to the Iraqi people," the statement said.

"We hope that we can continue to do this work and we pray for the speedy release of our beloved teammates," it added.

On Tuesday, al-Jazeera broadcast video of the four men held by a previously unknown group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.

The group claimed they were spies working under the cover of Christian peace activists.

Loney, a community worker, was leading the Christian group's delegation in Iraq.

The tape was shown the same day a TV station displayed a photo of the German hostage, Susanne Osthoff.

The kidnappers threatened to kill Osthoff and her Iraqi driver unless Germany halts all contacts with the Iraqi government.

Osthoff and her driver were kidnapped on Friday.

Germany has ruled out sending troops to Iraq and opposed the US-led war, but has been training Iraqi police and military outside the country.

Iraq was swept by a wave of kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners last year and early this year, but such attacks have dropped off in recent months as many Western groups have left and security precautions for those who remain have tightened.

Insurgents, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, have seized more than 225 people, killing at least 38.