Peace Activists Freed in Iraq

Coalition troops freed three Western aid workers early Thursday in a military raid carried out two weeks after kidnappers tortured and killed the American in the group and dumped his body on a Baghdad street.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the U.S. military spokesman, said the hostages were freed from a house in western Baghdad in an operation that began at 8 a.m. local time and was initiated by intelligence provided by a person taken into custody several hours earlier.

No kidnappers were present when Coalition forces arrived at the house and found the hostages in relatively good condition, Gen. Lynch said in a military briefing.

He also said the hostages were being held by a 'kidnapping cell," adding that military operations concerning other hostages were ongoing, "probably as a result of what we're finding at this time."

British officials in Baghdad said those freed were Canadians Jim Loney, 41, and Harmeet Sooden, 32, and 74-year-old Briton Norman Kember. The men, all members of a Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams, were kidnapped on Nov. 26 along with their American colleague, Tom Fox, 54, whose body was found earlier this month.

Gen. Lynch said the raid was "intelligence led," explaining that planning for the operation began when two men who were captured Wednesday night provided information on the location of the hostages.

"It was eight hours since we received the intelligence to the time we carried out the operation," Gen. Lynch said, adding that no shots were fired and no Coalition casualties occurred. The hostages were found bound and together he said.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Kember was in "reasonable condition" in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. The two Canadians required hospital treatment, but he gave no further details.

Straw also gave few details of the operation, saying only that it followed "weeks and weeks" of planning.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said he was delighted by the trio's release.

"He is particularly pleased for those released and their families. He congratulates everyone involved in the operation to rescue the hostages," his office said in a statement.

Loney's brother, Ed, told CBC television that his mother had spoken with James on the phone and he sounded "fantastic."

"He's alert and he was asking how we were doing and said he was sorry for the whole situation," Ed Loney said. "My mom said, 'Don't worry about it — just get home and we'll talk about all that stuff when you get here."'

The kidnapped men were shown as prisoners in several videos, the most recent a silent clip dated Feb. 28 in which Loney, Kember and Sooden appeared without Fox. Fox's body was found March 10 near a west Baghdad railway line with gunshot wounds to his head and chest.

The previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigades claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

In Fox's hometown of Clearbrook, Va., his friends learned of the rescues on the television.

"I think there's a bittersweet element to this in that yes, our friend Tom isn't coming home," said Anne Bacon, clerk of the Hopewell Centre Quaker meeting where Fox volunteered. "But we know Tom is with us and that Tom is overjoyed that these men will be reunited with their families."

The Christian Peacemaker Teams said the activists went to Iraq "motivated by a passion for justice and peace."

"We remember with tears Tom Fox," group co-director Doug Pritchard said. "We had longed for the day when all four men would be released together. Our gladness today is bittersweet by the fact that Tom is not alive to join his colleagues in the celebration."

Group volunteers have been in Iraq since October 2002, investigating allegations of abuse against Iraqi detainees by coalition forces. Its teams promote peaceful solutions in conflict zones.

"They knew that their only protection was in the power of the love of God and of their Iraqi and international co-workers," Pritchard said.

He also called for coalition forces to leave the country.

"We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq," Pritchard said.

Other Americans taken hostage in Iraq and killed in addition to Fox were Ronald Schulz, 40, an industrial electrician from Anchorage, Alaska; Jack Hensley, 48, a civil engineer from Marietta, Ga.; Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, 52, formerly of Hillsdale, Mich.; and Nicholas Berg, 26, a businessman from West Chester, Pa.

Still missing is Jill Carroll, a freelance writer for The Christian Science Monitor who was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad. She has appeared in three videotapes delivered by her kidnappers to Arab satellite television stations.

The last hostage to be freed in a military operation was Douglas Wood, an Australian rescued in west Baghdad by U.S. and Iraqi forces on June 15 after 47 days in captivity.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.