- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — U.S. and British forces rescued three Christian peace activists from captivity yesterday after finding them tied up in a house in western Baghdad, two weeks after their American colleague was tortured and killed.

The two Canadians and a Briton, seized in November, were alone in the house. No shots were fired in the operation, which was swiftly mounted after a suspect detained on Wednesday night revealed their location, a U.S. general in Baghdad said.

The freed hostages worked for Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), which used the rescue as an opportunity to blame the United States for the captives’ ordeal.

“We believe 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 today. The occupation must end,” the co-chairman of CPT, Doug Pritchard, told a press conference in Toronto.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper disclosed that Canadian military personnel also participated in the rescue.

News of the release emerged as a suicide car bomber blew himself up outside the headquarters of the Iraqi police’s major crimes unit in Baghdad, killing 25 persons and wounding 35 in one of the worst attacks on the police in recent months.

Another car bomb targeting a police patrol in a market in southwestern Baghdad killed seven persons several hours later.

Nine Iraqi soldiers were also killed when a suicide bomber hit their patrol near the Al Asad U.S. air base in western Iraq, interior ministry sources said.

U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, said the 8 a.m. rescue of the Briton and two Canadians from a “kidnapping cell” was based on information divulged by a man during interrogation only three hours earlier. The man was captured by U.S. forces on Wednesday night.

No kidnappers were present when the troops broke into the house, where the captives were discovered with their hands tied, Gen. Lynch said.

“They were bound, they were together, there were no kidnappers in the areas,” he told reporters.

The freed men were Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and Briton Norman Kember, 74. The men were kidnapped Nov. 26 along with an American colleague, Tom Fox, 54.

Mr. Fox’s body was found this month, shot and dumped in western Baghdad.

The three were taken to a hospital for observation in Baghdad but were released in good condition, CPT said from the Iraqi capital.

The CPT volunteers have been in Iraq since October 2002, investigating charges of abuse against Iraqi detainees by coalition forces.

The kidnapped men were shown as prisoners in several videos, the most recent a silent clip dated Feb. 28 in which Mr. Loney, Mr. Kember and Mr. Sooden appeared without Mr. Fox, whose body was found March 10.

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

“As we study who could conduct these kinds of operations there seems to be a kidnapping cell that has been robust over the last several months in conducting these kind of kidnappings,” Gen. Lynch said.

Thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped for ransom and some Westerners are thought to have been grabbed by those criminal gangs as well and auctioned off to the highest bidder — often terrorist groups that kill the hostages.

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, 2005, after 47 days in captivity.

Gen. Lynch said there was no new information that “I can discuss at this time” on American reporter Jill Carroll, a freelance writer for the Christian Science Monitor who was abducted Jan. 7.

But, he said: “There are other operations that continue probably as a result of what we’re finding at this time. So you’ve got to give us the opportunity to work through that.”

Miss Carroll has appeared in three videotapes delivered by her kidnappers to Arab television stations, and the deadline her captors set for killing her passed weeks ago without any word about her fate.

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