LONDON – Freed British hostage Norman Kember returned home Saturday after four months in captivity in Iraq and thanked the soldiers who saved him and two other peace activists.
Kember, 74, arrived on a commercial flight from Kuwait and was reunited with his wife, Pat, in a terminal in Heathrow Airport. He waved to the waiting TV cameras.
A joint U.S.-British military operation freed Kember and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, on Thursday. They were rescued without violence from a house west of Baghdad.
"I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my rescue," Kember said in a statement he read to journalists while smiling and holding his wife's hand.
After their rescue, the three members of the Christian Peacemakers Teams group learned that a fellow hostage, 54-year-old American Tom Fox, had been killed by the hostage-takers weeks earlier.
Kember declined to answer questions about his ordeal and said the world's focus should be on the needs of the Iraqi people.
"There's a real sense in which you are interviewing the wrong person. It's the ordinary people of Iraq you should be talking to, the people who have suffered so much over many years and still await the stable and just society they deserve."
Some British media were critical of what they viewed as an apparent lack of a formal thank you from the peace activists for the efforts to rescue them. But Kember's supporters maintained that thanks was expressed quickly.
"We are thankful to all the people who gave of themselves sacrificially to free Jim, Norman, Harmeet and Tom over the last four months, and those supporters who prayed and wept for our brothers in captivity, for their loved ones and for us, their co-workers," Christian Peacemaker Teams said Thursday in a statement.
Kember was flown out of Baghdad Friday on a British military plane, saying: "I'm very much looking forward to getting home to British soil and to being reunited with my family."
The two Canadians left Iraq on Saturday on a flight to the United Arab Emirates.
The Rev. Bob Gardiner of the Harrow Baptist Church in London, where Kember and his wife worship, praised the soldiers for carrying out the rescue without any violence or loss of life.
"We were impressed by the sensitivity with which it (the British government) responded to our concerns about any possible use of force in any rescue attempt," Gardiner said.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the rescue was launched three hours after a detainee captured the night before told American forces where the hostages were.
The four activists were kidnapped Nov. 26, and Fox's body was found dumped in western Baghdad on March 9. He had been shot in the head and chest.
The release of the trio has raised hopes among U.S. officials and family members that American reporter Jill Carroll, a freelance writer for The Christian Science Monitor who was abducted Jan. 7, could eventually be freed.
Peggy Gish, a Christian Peacekeeping Team member in Baghdad, said Kember and the two Canadians did not appear to have been tortured or abused. Most of the time, the captives were not tied up, and the captors — a little-known Iraqi radical group — provided Kember with medication for high blood pressure and an aneurysm.
Gish said the captors tied up the hostages, then fled before the multinational forces arrived.