American missing from hostage video

2 Canadians, 1 Briton abducted in Iraq are shown on tape released by Al-Jazeera


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two Canadians and a Briton taken hostage last fall during their Christian peace mission to Iraq were shown yesterday in a videotape on Al-Jazeera television - without the American colleague who was captured with them.

The mysterious turn in a 4-month-old hostage drama came on a day of simmering sectarian violence that left at least 16 people dead and amid continued wrangling over who will lead the country. Interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, fighting to keep his job in the next government, declared on television that he "will not be subdued by blackmail."

Iraq and its leaders have been reeling from a spike in sectarian clashes that left several hundred people dead in the last week of February. There had been no sign in that period of the peace activists or of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll.

The video shown yesterday was dated Feb. 28, a month after Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based network, telecast similar footage showing all four peace activists. The January video had been accompanied by a statement from the insurgent kidnappers giving U.S.-led forces what they called one last chance to free all Iraqi prisoners or the four men would be killed.

The hostages seen in the latest video were Briton Norman Kember, 74, and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32. They were shown sitting in chairs and speaking, although there was no audio. They appeared to be in good health.

Tom Fox, a 54-year-old Virginian abducted with them last Nov. 26, did not appear in the footage, and his absence was not explained. A narrator on the tape said only that the men had asked their governments and Persian Gulf countries to work for their release.

"We do not know what to make of Tom Fox's absence from this video," said Jessica Phillips, a Chicago-based spokeswoman for Christian Peacemaker Teams, the organization that sent the four men to Iraq. "We are not making any speculation."

A previously unknown group, Swords of Righteousness Brigades, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

"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," British peace campaigner Bruce Kent, a friend of Kember, told Britain's Sky television yesterday. "I am hopeful."

Christian Peacemaker Teams has been working in Iraq since 2002, investigating allegations of abuse against Iraqi detainees by American, British and Iraqi forces. In a statement yesterday, the organization said 14,600 Iraqis are "detained illegally by the Multinational Forces."

Yesterday marked two months since Carroll's abduction and the killing of her translator. The journalist's captors, calling themselves the Revenge Brigades, have demanded the release of female detainees in Iraq in exchange for her life.

Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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