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NRI Canadian, Harmeet Sooden Singh freed as held hostage in Iraq

  • NRI (non-resident Indian), Harmeet Singh Sooden, and James Loney Canadian both members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a British colleague and one American were among four aid workers abducted at gunpoint in Baghda in Nov., 2005

  • Soldiers free Canadian and British hostages in Iraq

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Mar. 23, 2006. 10:13 AM

A gruelling four-month ordeal for two Canadian peace activists and a British colleague held hostage in Iraq ended Thursday in a bloodless military operation by multinational forces, delighting family and supporters back home.
The freed members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were taken to hospital for observation in Baghdad but were released in good condition, the organization said from Baghdad.

Jim Loney, 41, of Toronto, Harmeet Sooden, 32, formerly of Montreal, Norm Kember, 74, of London and an American co-worker were snatched at gunpoint off the streets of Baghdad Nov. 26 by a shadowy group of kidnappers.

Families of the three rescued hostages were overjoyed on getting news of their rescue.

“You could say 'euphoric' is the word,” Matt Loney, brother of Jim Loney, told The Canadian Press from Vancouver.

``It’s the happiest day I’ve had in 115 days.”

In Toronto, the co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams expressed delight the three had been released without violence.

“There were indeed no gunshots fired,” said Doug Pritchard. ``There were no captors present at the time the men were found.”

U.S. Army Gen. Rick Lynch said in Baghdad that coalition forces were tipped off to where the hostages were by someone captured Wednesday night.

The rescue operation at about 8 a.m. local time occurred within three hours of that tip, Lynch said.

The trio had their hands tied behind their backs when found in an otherwise empty house northwest of Baghdad, he said.

“No one was there,” Lynch said. “The three individuals were by themselves.”

U.S. and British forces were involved in the operation.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw mentioned that the Mounties had played a role, but an RCMP spokesman would not confirm it.

Straw said in London that planning for a rescue operation had been in the works for “weeks and weeks” but declined to provide details. “I’m delighted that now we have a happy ending to this terrible ordeal,” he said.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement he had spoken to the two Canadians and had expressed “happiness” on behalf of all Canadians at their release.

“The safe return of these men is what we all sought,” Harper said.

Loney’s sister-in-law Donna Laframboise said their hearts ``definitely jumped” when they learned of the release of the hostages from Loney’s parents, Pat and Claudette, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

“We’re pretty happy about it. I think we’re in a bit of shock maybe, a bit of disbelief,” Laframboise said in an interview.

``We hugged each other and there were a few tears of joy.”

But the earlier murder of the fourth kidnapped Christian Peacemaker activist, American Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va., cast a pall over the celebration.

Fox’s bullet-riddled body was found dumped on a Baghdad street March 10 just days after his captors released a video from which he was ominously missing.

“We would also like to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Tom Fox,” Laframboise said on behalf of the Loney family.

Fox’s slaying was the lowest point of the ordeal, Matt Loney said. “It was a blow to our hopes at that point.”

Besides have lost about 20 pounds, Jim Loney told his mother that he was well and that his main concern was for his parents.

“Oh what a joyful day this is!” the family said in a statement.

Loney is expected to return to Canada in the next few days, and the family hoped to meet him in Toronto and take him back to “the Sault for a little while,” said Ed Loney, another brother.

The Zambian-born Sooden came to Canada from England in the early 1990s to study at McGill University and later became a Canadian citizen. He moved to Auckland, New Zealand, two years ago, where his sister Preety lives, to study.

Sooden’s brother-in-law Mark Brewer said relatives planned to travel to Baghdad to bring him home. “We’re just looking forward to getting hold of him, giving him a big hug,” Brewer told TV One News in Auckland.

The freed hostages are members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a non-profit organization dedicated to aggressive pacifism.

Since the kidnapping, Christian Peacemakers has waged a relentless media campaign in an effort to convince the captors, who called themselves the Swords of Righteousness Brigades, to free the men.

The organization enlisted support from around the world, including high-profile Muslims, to persuade the captors that the Peacemakers, too, opposed the U.S. and British invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Pritchard said he was convinced the men are still alive because of the “commitment to peace and justice in Iraq.”

The kidnappers had denounced the four aid workers as spies in a videotape broadcast by the Al-Jazeera network three days after their abduction.

On Dec. 2, the kidnappers released another videotape in which they threatened to kill the hostages unless all prisoners held at U.S. and British detention facilities in Iraq were released by Dec. 8.

The deadline was extended by two days to Dec. 10, but then came weeks of silence that was finally broken on Jan. 28, when Al-Jazeera broadcast another videotape showing the four activists and giving another “last chance” to free the prisoners.

On March 7, Al-Jazeera broadcast a new videotape showing the three activists apparently calling on their governments to help them. Fox was not in the video.

Kidnappers in Iraq have taken at least 235 foreigners hostage and killed nearly 40 over the past two years. Most have been released, although a number are still missing and believed held by their abductors

One Canadians NRI, of four peace activists kidnapped in Baghdad


Yoronto, November 29, 2005
Dalbir Sahota

NRI (non-resident Indian), Harmeet Singh Sooden, and James Loney Canadian both members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), were among four aid workers abducted Saturday at gunpoint in Baghdad.

Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, a Canadian electrical engineer, was described by his family as being “peaceful and fun-loving and he is known to be passionate about the plight of the underprivileged around the globe.”

Mr. Loney, 41, a community worker from Toronto, had spent many years working with the city's homeless before joining the organization in 2000. He had been leading the group before he was abducted.

Tom Fox, 51, of Clearbrook, Va., and long-time British peace activist, Norman Kember, 74, were also among those abducted, the group said in a statement Tuesday.

Al-Jazeera reported that a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and has accused the four of being spies working undercover as Christian peace activists.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has been in Iraq since October 2002, providing first-hand, independent reports from detainees of both U.S. and Iraqi forces, and training others in non-violent intervention and human rights documentation.

The group said Tuesday its members were aware of the risks of doing humanitarian work in war-torn nations but “feel the threat does not outweigh the potential benefit of remaining.”

“Terrorists will try to destabilize the situation during the election period” in order to discourage people from voting, police Maj. Falah Mohammedawi said. “They will try to do this through kidnappings, assassinations and threats to citizens. We have our complete security plan to confront this.”


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Two kidnapped Canadians in Iraq. (One is NRI)

NRI, former Montrealer Harmeet Singh Sooden as they appeared on a video aired by Al Jazeera Jan. 28.

James Loney Canadian