Hostages' Deadline Passes
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi and British officials said Sunday they had no word on the fate of four Christian peace activists, more than a day after the expiration of a deadline set by kidnappers to kill them if all prisoners weren't released.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr and British Defense Secretary John Reid said separately that their governments had no information about the hostages — who include an American, a Briton and two Canadians.
"We have no information," Jabr told The Associated Press in Baghdad when asked about the hostages. "From the beginning I advised foreigners not to move freely and we are always ready to protect them."
The previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigade, which kidnapped the activists two weeks ago, had said the hostages would be killed by Saturday unless all prisoners were released. The group originally set last Thursday as a deadline, but extended that date.
Another three foreigners have been kidnapped besides the four activists.
"They are all people who came to serve us, to serve our people," Jabr said.
When asked about the hostages, and the Briton in particular, Reid told Sky News television in London that officials were doing "everything possible to try and make sure his life is saved and that of his colleagues is protected."
The four captive members of Christian Peacemaker Teams are Norman Kember, 74, of London; Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va.; and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32.
Christian Peacemaker Teams has been working in Iraq since October 2002, investigating allegations of abuse against Iraqi detainees and promoting peace.
There also has been no further word on the fate of American Ronald Allen Schulz, after an Internet statement in the name of the Islamic Army in Iraq on Thursday claimed his abductors had killed him.
In addition, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he had no information on the fate of German humanitarian worker Susanne Osthoff, kidnapped Nov. 25 in northern Iraq with her Iraqi driver.
However, he said Germany's opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq made it unlikely her captors would kill her.
"There is no reason for that, she is German," Talabani said in comments dubbed into German on the German political talk show ARD. "Germany has and had no troops in Iraq and did not take part in the war against the dictatorship,"
While it opposed the war, Germany has since begun training Iraqi soldiers and police outside the country.
A French aid worker is also being held by kidnappers.
Iraqi officials say a revival of kidnappings of Westerners may be an attempt to undermine Thursday's elections to choose a parliament for the next four years.
An Egyptian engineer who was abducted by gunmen Friday in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit was found dead a day later.
Three diplomats — two Algerians and an Egyptian — were kidnapped in July and killed. The terror group Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility.
Iraq was swept by a wave of kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners in 2004 and early 2005, but such attacks fell 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 foreigners, killing at least 38.