- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Colleagues of a Virginia man kidnapped in Iraq three months ago expressed concern yesterday about his absence from a new terrorist videotape showing three other men who were seized with him in November.

“We do not know what to make of Tom Fox’s absence from this video,” said a statement posted yesterday on the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) Web site, www.cpt.org.

The men shown on Al Jazeera television appeared to be Briton Norman Kember and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, all members of the Peacemakers group. The men appeared tired but in good health.

Mr. Fox, of Clearbrook, Va., who is a member of the Quaker Langley Hill Friends Meeting in McLean, did not appear in the footage, which showed the other three men sitting in a room. They were speaking to the camera, but their voices could not be heard.

“It does give us hope to see them, but we can tell from the pictures that this has not been easy. We are ready for them to come home,” Jessica Phillips, CPT spokeswoman, said from Chicago in a telephone interview.

She said her organization opposes the U.S. operation in Iraq, blaming the mission for continuing violence that has complicated efforts to win her co-worker’s release.

She emphasized that CPT opposes all violence, including force or the threat of force to free the CPT hostages. Asked whether CPT would pay ransom to get its members released, Miss Phillips declined to comment. She said CPT knew of no health or other reason that might have kept Mr. Fox out of the video.

“We ask that you keep these four men and their families in your prayers. We ask that you keep the Iraqi people in your prayers,” she said.

In the video, the men, who were kidnapped Nov. 26, called on Gulf Arab leaders and their own governments to help free them, the Qatar-based station said.

The video, dated Feb. 28, was the first since the hostage-takers said in January that U.S.-led forces had one last chance to free Iraqi prisoners or the men would be killed.

Veteran British peace campaigner Bruce Kent, a friend of Mr. Kember’s, expressed relief at seeing the men in the video.

“They’re alive, and they’re not having nervous breakdowns. They’re obviously speaking quite sensibly, even though we don’t know what they’re saying,” Mr. Kent told Britain’s Sky television.

“We know the people who have got them are still trying to get some negotiating position from them, and they haven’t put a deadline,” Mr. Kent added. “I am hopeful.”

A group calling itself the Swords of Truth kidnapped the men in Baghdad, where they were working with CPT.

Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office called for the immediate release of the peace activists.

“They are peace campaigners dedicated to helping other people and should be freed immediately to spare both them and their families further distress,” the office said.

Muslim scholars and activists around the world have appealed for the release of the men.

More than 200 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Fifty-four foreign hostages are known to have been killed by their captors.

In Baghdad yesterday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad held a meeting with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the powerful Shi’ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the two dominant parties in the Shi’ite coalition that won the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

The talks were held as Iraqi factions wrangled over a new government.

Facing demands by the Sunnis to step down, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari declared that he would not be “blackmailed” into stepping aside, and the Shi’ite majority balked at convening the parliament.

The inability to agree on a new government is threatening to crush American hopes of beginning a troop pullout this summer as violence rages. Bombings, mortar blasts and gunfire killed 19 more persons throughout the country yesterday, and police reported finding four more bullet-riddled bodies — two of them with their eyes gouged out.

cThis story is based in part on wire service reports.

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