James Loney (second from left) and another member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams hold a vigil for Iraqi detainees in downtown Baghdad, prior to Mr. Loney’s capture. He and two other CPT hostages were released March 23 after four months in captivity.
“Oh, what a joyful day this is!” said a statement released March 23 by the family of Canadian James Loney, upon receiving news today that he, along with two other peace activists held hostage in Iraq for almost four months, had been freed after a multinational military operation involving Canadian, British, American and Iraqi forces.
Also freed were another Canadian, Harmeet Singh Sooden, and Briton Norman Kember -who, like Mr. Loney, are members of the international peace activist group Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), which has been calling for an end to the American occupation of Iraq. The fourth hostage, American Tom Fox, was killed and his body was found March 10; he had sustained gunshot wounds to his head and chest.
Mr. Loney and Mr. Sooden were treated at a hospital in Baghdad, while Mr. Kember was reported to be in “reasonable” condition, according to a report by the CBC. The rescue operation took place at 8 a.m. local time in a rural area between the town of Mishahda, some 30 kilometres north of Baghdad and the suburb of Abu Ghraib, located about 20 kilometres from downtown Baghdad, said the CBC.
“We would like to thank everyone for their support and prayers. At this time, we would also like to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Tom Fox,” said the Loney family’s statement. “Our gladness today is made bittersweet by the fact that Tom is not alive to join in the celebration. However, we are confident that his spirit is very much present in each reunion.”
The Loney family also took the occasion to issue a call for the pull out of foreign troops in Iraq, saying: “We believe that 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. The occupation must end.”
The family also said it harboured no ill feelings toward the abductors, a group that called itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. The group abducted the four activists last Nov. 26, accusing them of “spies working for the occupying forces.”
“In the spirit of the prophetic nonviolence that motivated Jim, Norman, Harmeet and Tom to go to Iraq, we refuse to yield to a spirit of vengeance,” said the Loney family.
The Loney family said what sustained them through the grueling months were the messages of concern that they received from around the world, including from Muslims in the Middle East, Europe and North America. The abduction had also drawn the ire of high-profile Muslim leaders and groups, including top Sunni clerics in Iraq, particularly because the four activists had chosen to go to Iraq to document reports of human rights abuses being committed by occupying forces against Iraqi prisoners.
“We pray that Christians throughout the world will, in the same spirit, call for justice and for respect for the human rights of the thousands of Iraqis who are being detained illegally by the U.S. and British forces occupying Iraq,” the family said. “During these past months, we have tasted the pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Why have our loved ones been taken? Where are they being held? Under what conditions? How are they? Will they be released? When?”
Families of the other hostages said they were happy that no guns were fired and no blood was shed during the military operation – the kidnappers had fled before the multinational forces entered to free the hostages. American military officials said the rescue took place three hours after intelligence information was taken from a man who had been captured the night before.
The military operation itself took “weeks and weeks” of preparation and involved military and civilian personnel, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.