WELLINGTON, New Zealand – The mother of one of the four Christian peace activists held hostage in Iraq made a televised plea Sunday for her son to be freed unharmed — just four days ahead of the deadline his captors set to kill him and three companions.
Manjeet Kaur Sooden, the mother of 32-year-old Canadian Harmeet Singh Sooden, made the emotional appeal to a television network in New Zealand where her son has been studying for the past three years.
"I am the mother of Harmeet Singh Sooden who is being held in Iraq. I want to appeal to those who are holding my son to release him and his companions unharmed," she told TV3 network, her voice cracking.
"Harmeet ... is a peace-loving man. He went to Iraq to do good. I pray those who are holding Harmeet will look into their hearts [and] see the good that is in my son," she said during a visit to New Zealand.
The four peace activists from the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams were snatched nine days ago near Baghdad by kidnappers who identified themselves as the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, a previously unknown group.
Sooden was captured along with Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va.; Norman Kember, 74, of London; James Loney, 41, of Toronto.
The kidnappers have threatened to kill the hostages if Iraqi prisoners are not released from American and Iraqi jails by Dec. 8, the Arabic satellite television network Al-Jazeera reported.
TV3 said the mother's televised plea would also be supplied to Al-Jazeera.
The hostage-takers have accused the peace workers of spying for foreign forces in Iraq.
A spokeswoman for Christian Peacemaker Teams also appealed to the kidnappers to release the four.
"I would appeal to them and say that you are mistaken about who these four men are," Peggy Gish of the Chicago-based organization told Associated Press Television News in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
"They are really working for peace and justice. They are helping you and other Iraqi people, I would appeal to them to release the men and allow us to continue our work", she said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Sunday that New Zealand has offered Canada every assistance in "working toward the safe release of the hostages."
"This is a terrible act against humanitarian aid workers who had gone to help the people of Iraq," she said.
It was important that one channel of communication be maintained, she said.
"We are confident that Canada is making all efforts to resolve this."