BAGHDAD, Iraq – After a months-long hiatus in the kidnapping of foreigners, television footage once again showed Westerners held captive: A German archaeologist – bound and blindfolded – knelt among masked gunmen in one video and four frightened peace activists were shown in another blurry tape.
The latest attacks are part of a new wave of kidnappings police fear is aimed at disrupting next month’s national elections.
There was other violence Tuesday: Two American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, a Sunni cleric was assassinated as he left a mosque, and a suicide car bomber killed eight Iraqi soldiers and wounded five.
But while assassinations and car bombings have raged on, abductions of foreigners had fallen off in Iraq as most Westerners fled the country or took refuge in heavily guarded compounds.
Since Friday, however, 11 foreigners, including an American, have been abducted. Six were Iranian pilgrims – though Iranian television said all were later released.
On Tuesday, Al-Jazeera broadcast video of the four peace activists held by a previously unknown group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.
The group claimed its hostages were spies working under the cover of Christian peace activists. The captives – the American, a Briton and two Canadians – were members of the Chicago-based aid group Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The footage showed Norman Kember, a retired British professor with a shock of white hair, sitting on the floor with three other men. The camera revealed the 74-year-old Kember’s passport, but the other hostages were not identified.
However, Christian Peacemaker Teams confirmed that the others were Tom Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va.; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, a Canadian electrical engineer. It said they had been missing since Saturday.
In a statement, Christian Peacemaker Teams said it strongly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and blamed the kidnapping on coalition forces.
The group’s first activists went to Iraq in 2002, six months before the U.S.-led invasion, said spokeswoman Jessica Phillips, adding that a main mission since the invasion has been documenting alleged human rights abuses by U.S. forces.
The brief, blurry tape was shown the same day a television station displayed a photo of the German hostage. The kidnappers threatened to kill Susanne Osthoff and her Iraqi driver unless Germany halts all contacts with the Iraqi government.
Osthoff and her Iraqi driver were kidnapped Friday, and German’s ARD public television said it obtained a video in which the kidnappers made their threats. The station posted a photo on its Web site showing what appears to be Osthoff and her driver blindfolded on the floor, with three masked militants standing by, one with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Osthoff’s mother told Germany’s N24 news station that her daughter was an archaeologist who was working for a German aid organization distributing medicine and medical supplies since before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.