Waiting on word from 4 hostages
Redmond and Jackson call for hostagesâ€™ release
SAC member was in Iraq with the kidnapped foursome
By TERRY DEAN
Photo courtesy of Elce Redmond
Austin activist Elce Redmond (second from left) joined the Christian Peacemaker Teamâ€™s visit to Iraq in September. Redmond and other activists are prepared to go to Iraq to secure the hostagesâ€™ release. (Hostages not pictured.)
Four members of a U.S. delegation to Iraq that previously included Austin activist Elce Redmond were taken hostage in that country Saturday by a militant terrorist group, which threatened to kill the individuals by late Wednesday if their terrorist demands were not met.
Tom Fox, James Loney, Norman Kemper and Harmeet Singh Sooden, members of the Christian Peacemaker Team, were kidnapped Saturday by a group calling themselves "The Swordsman." The four men were driving to Fallujah in Iraq and were taken hostage shortly before arriving to the Iraqi city. The team members have been in Iraq since September. Elce Redmond, a member of the South Austin Coalition, was in Iraq with the group three months ago. Redmond returned to Austin in late September after a two-week stay in Iraq. Redmond reported on his trip to SACCC and was featured in two Austin Weekly News articles on Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, where he recounted his trip to Iraq.
Redmond, SACCC members and community leaders joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson at a news conference Wednesday, calling for the release of the four men.
"I am appealing to the captors to release the hostages as a humanitarian gesture," Jackson said at a news conference Wednesday morning at Mandell United Methodist Church. "Our hope is that they will pick up on the spirit of those who are calling for an end to the occupation in Iraq and not use the Christian Peacemakers as a trophy."
Jackson said he is prepared to go to Iraq and negotiate for the menâ€™s release.
Additional members of the Christian Peacemaker Team are in Iraq and are unharmed. The families or the four men have chosen to remain anonymous.
The kidnappersâ€™ demands are unclear, but involve the release of their comrades from prisons, said Redmond.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the four men were still alive. Tom Fox, 54, is a native of Clearbrook, Va.; Norman Kemper, 74, is a native of London, England; James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 33, are Canadian citizens.
The story of the menâ€™s capture was featured on Al Jazeera news in Iraq on Sunday. Redmond said he first learned of his colleaguesâ€™ capture on Sunday. Redmond said he and Tom Fox became friends during his September stay in Iraq. The entire team was scheduled to leave Iraq in a couple of weeks, Redmond said.
"I met Tom in Iraq," said Redmond. "We were with each other every day for two weeks. When youâ€™re with someone in that type of situation, you develop a bond, and we had developed a bond."
Redmond also personally knew Kemper. He said he had never heard of the Swordsman group. Redmond and other members of the Christian Peacemaker Team were under constant threat of capture or an insurgent attack. Redmond said he and other community activists are also prepared to go to Iraq.
"We were trying to avoid the bombings and kidnappings. The kidnappers finally got them," he said. "When we all decided to do this, we all knew that this might occur. We want to do what we can to ensure his safe release and that of the others."
Redmond waits for word on hostagesâ€™ fate
By TERRY DEAN
Photo courtesy of Christian Peacemaker Teams
Christian Peacemaker Team members: (clockwise) American Tom Fox, Briton Norman Kember, and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden.
As of Saturday, the four members of the Christian Peacemakers Team taken hostage in Baghdad several weeks ago are believed to still be alive.
Their captors, an Islamic terrorist group calling themselves the "Swords of Righteousness Brigade," extended the deadline on their lives to Saturday, Dec. 11, from the original deadline of Dec. 8.
"Itâ€™s just a waiting game right now, just trying to find out whatâ€™s going on," said Austin activist and South Austin Coalition member Elce Redmond, who was part of the teamsâ€™ Iraq delegation in September.
Tom Fox, James Loney, Norman Kemper and Harmeet Singh Sooden, members of the Christian Peacemaker Team, were kidnapped Nov. 26, while driving to the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
News of their capture was released Sunday Dec. 3, on Al-Jazeera television in Iraq, and a video of the hostages was shown. The four men were shown sitting underneath two crossed swords mounted on a wall behind them.
Their captors threatened to kill the men by Dec. 8 unless all Iraqi detainees were released from U.S.-occupied prisons. The deadline was extended to this past Saturday. Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va.; Kemper, 74; Loney, 41; and Sooden, 33, are believed to be alive.
Activists nationwide, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have called for the menâ€™s release. Other CPT members remain in Iraq under anonymity, said Claire Evans, The organizationâ€™s delegation coordinator.
CPT learned of the capture shortly after Nov. 26.
"Itâ€™s pretty intense," said Evans of the last few weeks. "Iâ€™ve been here for seven years. This is as intense as it has gotten."
Fox and Loney, Evans said, were long-serving members of the peace/intervention advocacy organization. Kemper and Sooden were two of the newest members. The organization has been in Iraq investigating charges of Iraqi detainee abuses and promoting peace in the region.
The organization will not disclose information on remaining members still in Iraq, said Evans.
Kemper and Sooden were part of a short-term delegation to Iraq, which lasts about 2-4 weeks, Evans said. The two men were in Iraq for only a few days before their capture. Redmond was part of two-week delegation in September.
Fox and Loney were full-time members who spent close to a year in Iraq. Both were there during Redmondâ€™s stay.
The Christian Peacemaker Team has sent delegations to Iraq since 2002. This latest delegation was the 16th since â€˜02.
"Itâ€™s pretty difficult," said Evans of the current ordeal. "Weâ€™re committed to continuing the work. I donâ€™t think this incident has made us question our work and our mission. Itâ€™s important to know why our people are over there; to hear the voices of the people in Iraq and get a perspective on whatâ€™s going on over there."
The families of the four captive men have made brief public statements asking for the loved onesâ€™ release.
"We know that our James would be overwhelmed by the grassroots support that he is receiving. We are too," reads part of a statement released by the Loney family. "We have come to a fuller understanding of the effect that his humanitarian work for peace has in the world."
Foxâ€™s daughter Katherine has made press statements and appeared on ABCâ€™s Nightline last week asking for her fatherâ€™s release and the others. Family members have limited their media access for safety reasons.
CPT members have been able to chronicle their Iraqi experience. The last entry by Tox Fox in his blog "Waiting in the Light" was made on Nov. 8.
"The ongoing difficulties faced by Fallujans are so great that words fail to properly express it," Fox wrote. "Words are inadequate, but words are all we have. Words like â€˜collective punishmentâ€™ and â€˜ghettoizeâ€™ come to mind for the current state of life in Fallujah."
Little is known of the menâ€™s captors, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. The terrorist group believed the four men to be U.S. spies, according to news reports. "This group popped out of nowhere. If they had some kind of leadership or were a part of some other group, that would be one thing, but we donâ€™t know who to talk to," Redmond said. "And we canâ€™t offer them anything anyway. The only thing we could negotiate with is some kind of humanitarian relief. Thatâ€™s the only appeal."
Last Wednesday, Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Redmond and other West Side community and religious leaders in calling for the menâ€™s release during an Austin press conference at Mandell United Methodist Church. Jackson said heâ€™s willing to go Iraq and negotiate a release.
More than 100 non-Iraqis, including U.S. citizens, have been taken hostage since the end of the U.S. war on Iraq in 2003.
"Theyâ€™ve made their point," said Redmond of the CPT captors. "Other organizations have spoken out and made it clear that these are not the guys you should harm."