- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Four Christian peace activists taken hostage in Iraq belong to a group that has spent more than 15 years walking into some of world’s hottest war zones, usually armed only with notes explaining that they aren’t there to convert anyone.

Such a declaration, written in Arabic, was likely what the Christian Peacemaker Teams activists were carrying when they were abducted in Iraq, spokeswoman Jessica Phillips said.

Blurry television footage broadcast Tuesday showed the frightened men, taken by a previously unknown group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness brigade.

“Because of our stance on pacifism, we walk into situations quite vulnerable,” Miss Phillips said. “In our training, we explain that what we do is high-risk. You need to have a sober reality of that going in.”

The Chicago-based organization — supported by several Protestant denominations that believe Christianity forbids all war and violence — has sent activists into war zones, including Bosnia and Haiti, since the late 1980s. It has about 160 members around the world and about a dozen in Iraq.

The kidnapped men had been witnessing the conditions of civilians and detainees, intending to go home and speak to church and other groups to call for an end to the fighting, Miss Phillips said.

Three of the activists had been in Iraq for a little more than a week, and the other had been in the country for several months, she said.

The group listed the names of those abducted as Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va.; Norman Kember, 74, of London; and James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, of Canada.

The group adamantly opposes the Iraq war, saying the kidnappings are “the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people.”

Despite its name, Christian Peacemaker Teams works in the name of peace, not religion, Miss Phillips said.

“We are very strict about this: We do not do any evangelism; we are not missionaries,” she said. “Our interest is to bring an end to the violence and destruction of civilian life in Iraq.”

However, people in Islamic countries often assume that the organization is there to proselytize.

Other activists say the group is known as peaceful and low-key.

“They are generally not considered to be extremely conservative,” said Dori Dinsmore, the director of Amnesty International’s Chicago office. “They have a strong grass-roots focus, and they try not to draw too much attention to themselves.”

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