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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006, 17:36 GMT
Freed Kember thanks rescue troops
Norman Kember, Pat Kember

Freed hostage Norman Kember has thanked the soldiers who rescued him from kidnappers in Iraq after being reunited with his wife Pat at Heathrow airport.

But the peace campaigner - criticised earlier for apparently failing to thank the rescuers - restated his opposition to foreign troops in the country.

He also said he needed to reflect on whether he was "foolhardy or rational" to have gone to Iraq last year.

Mr Kember, 74, of Pinner, London, and two Canadians were held for 117 days.

Tribute paid

Reading from a hand-written statement, Mr Kember said he was not ready to speak about his experience "except to say that I am delighted to be free and reunited with my family".

"In reality it was my wife who was kidnapped last November," he added.

It is the ordinary people of Iraq that you should be talking to - who have suffered so much
Norman Kember

"She suffered more than I because while I knew that I was alive and well, she did not."

On Friday, head of the British Army, Gen Sir Mike Jackson, said he was "saddened" there did not seem to be any gratitude after the rescue of Mr Kember, James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32.

However, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the group all three men were campaigning for, insisted it had thanked the soldiers and Mrs Kember said she was "very grateful".

Speaking at a VIP lounge at Heathrow in the company of his wife, Mr Kember said: "I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my rescue."

He went on to thank those of many faiths who had appealed and prayed for him, as the British officials who had worked for his release.

Emotional reunion

Mr Kember arrived in London at 1222 GMT on a scheduled British Airways flight from Kuwait.

He waved to a small group of neighbours as he returned to his house about two hours later but made no comment.

The rescue on Thursday followed an operation led by British troops and involving US and Canadian special forces, and information gleaned from two detainees just three hours before the rescue.

Norman Kember arrives back at his home
Mr Kember spent the night in Kuwait before flying to the UK

US citizen Tom Fox, kidnapped along with the freed men on 26 November in Baghdad, was found shot dead earlier this month.

His three colleagues did not find out he was dead until after their release, according to CPT. It said the men had not been bound during their captivity.

They were not given much food but Mr Kember had received medicine he needed.

Campaign continues

Anas Altikriti, from the Muslim Association of Britain who travelled to Iraq in December, to try to secure the hostages' release, said: "I, as well as countless people around the world, am extremely relieved that Norman is back home."

Mr Kember's church, meanwhile, has said UK authorities gave an assurance the men would not be rescued unless they were reasonably confident no-one would be killed.

From left: Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh and James Loney
The men were able to walk around while held captive

"We were impressed by the sensitivity with which it responded to our concerns about any possible use of force in any rescue attempt," said the Rev Bob Gardiner, of Harrow Baptist Church.

The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence would not comment on whether any such promises were made.

The two Canadians left Iraq on Saturday.

Despite the kidnappings, another CPT member, Jan Benvie has told BBC News she intends to go to the country in July.

She said she did not accept her presence should mean an extra responsibility for the security forces.

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