March 24, 2006 in Nation/World

Tip leads to rescue of hostages in Iraq

Richard Boudreaux Los Angeles Times
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Aided by a tip from an Iraqi prisoner, a British-led military operation Thursday rescued three Western peace activists whose abductors had held them hostage since November, killed their American colleague, and left them tied up in an empty house.

No shots were fired and no kidnappers present when a combined force of British, U.S. and Canadian troops stormed the house in Baghdad’s rural outskirts and found the three men in good condition, said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a U.S. military spokesman.

The activists – Norman Kember, 74, of Britain, and James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both of Canada – were seized by gunmen in Baghdad on Nov. 26 along with the American, Tom Fox, 54.

Fox’s body was found March 9, with bullet wounds in the head and chest. The corpse had been left in a garbage dump near a railway line in a western neighborhood of the capital.

“We had longed for the day when all four men would be released together,” said Doug Pritchard, Toronto-based co-director of their organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams. “Our gladness today is made bittersweet by the fact that Tom is not alive to join his colleagues in the celebration.”

Kidnappings by insurgents and criminal gangs have plagued Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion three years ago to topple Saddam Hussein. At least 430 foreigners, including 41 U.S. citizens, have been taken hostage and seven are still being held, including Jill Carroll, an American freelance writer for The Christian Science Monitor, who was abducted Jan. 7.

Lynch, speaking to reporters in Baghdad, said the operation was put together in three hours after a prisoner being interrogated by American forces pinpointed the location of the hostages.

The Swords of Righteousness Brigade, a previously unknown group, announced it was holding them.

The freed hostages said that Fox was separated from them in early February, about a month before his body was found. They did not learn of their American colleague’s death until after they were rescued.

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