[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 17:09 GMT
British Iraq hostage Kember freed
Norman Kember

Briton Norman Kember and two Canadian fellow peace activists held hostage in Iraq for almost four months have been freed by multinational forces.

Mr Kember, 74, of north-west London, James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, were three of four men seized in Baghdad in November.

Mr Kember said in a statement: "It is great to be free, and I'm looking forward to getting back to the UK."

The men's US colleague, Tom Fox, was found dead in Baghdad two weeks ago.

The three men are believed to have been rescued at 0800 local time (0500 GMT), following a weeks-long operation led by British troops and involving US and Canadian special forces.

Officials have revealed few details of the operation, but it is known that none of the captors was present, no shots were fired and no-one was injured.

Norman Kember
I've demonstrated, but I feel that's what I'd call cheap peacemaking
Norman Kember

Anita David, a member of the US and Canada-based peace group Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), which the men had been working for in Iraq when they were kidnapped, met Mr Kember and his two colleagues in Baghdad's high security Green Zone for lunch on Wednesday.

She described the men as "remarkably well" and said they had been eating ice-cream and drinking orange juice.

She told how they had tried to keep fit during their ordeal.

"Harmeet told me that he did sit ups every day and that he ran the steps.

"He ran up and down stairs each day as part of his commitment to physical good health.

"He told me that Jim Loney did stretching exercises each day and I don't know whether or not they had books to read or anything like that. They really didn't mention anything like that."

'Reasonable condition'

According to BBC correspondent Andrew North, in Baghdad, they did not talk about the mens' rescue.

It's tremendously good and so unexpected - we really did fear that each one would be killed
Reverend Alan Betteridge
Kember family friend

A US Army spokesman said the three men had been found tied up in a house in western Baghdad.

The rescue had followed intelligence obtained from a detainee, the spokesman said.

Mr Kember was said to be in a "reasonable condition", while the two Canadians were taken to hospital.

A spokeswoman at the British embassy in the Iraqi capital said Mr Kember was "quite relaxed", but all three men were still acclimatising to freedom.

The real good news here is that thankfully none of the families of the servicemen who rescued these people are receiving bad news of their loved ones
Ryan, Rome, Italy

Mr Kember, who has spoken to his wife over the phone, is expected back in Britain in the next two days, according to British Embassy officials.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he had spoken to Mr Kember's wife Pat and that she was "absolutely delighted, elated with this news".

Brother Ian Kember, in Taunton, Somerset, said: "It's a wonderful thing, and it's obviously a great relief, but beyond that I haven't come to terms with it yet."

Mr Kember's family also said in a statement that it was grateful for all the support given "from so many people" since he was taken hostage.

"We also thank everyone who has worked so hard for him to be set free," it added.

Tom Fox (archive)
There were signs Mr Fox had been beaten before being killed

Christian Peacemaker Teams co-director Doug Pritchard said: "Together we have endured uncertainty, hope, fear, grief, and now joy during the four months since they were abducted in Baghdad."

The Reverend Alan Betteridge, a friend of Mr Kember's for more than 40 years, told BBC Five Live: "It's tremendously good and so unexpected after the killing of Tom Fox a couple of weeks ago, when we really did fear that each one would be killed eventually."

Planned operation

Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was delighted by the news, and congratulated everyone involved in the operation.

It had followed "weeks and weeks of very careful work by military and coalition personnel in Iraq and many civilians as well", Mr Straw said.

Some of the grief and pain we have been through is a daily thing for Iraqis
Tim Nafziger
Christian Peacemaker Teams
The four men were abducted on 26 November by a previously unknown group calling itself the Swords of Truth Brigade.

The group had issued threats to kill the men if the US and Iraqi authorities did not meet their demand of releasing all Iraqi prisoners.

Fifty-four-year-old Mr Fox was found shot dead on 9 March in the Mansour district of the Iraqi capital.

Following the rescue, Mr Straw said it remained "a matter of great sorrow to everybody" that Mr Fox had been murdered.

Massoud Shadjareh, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said joy at the three men's release was mixed with sadness for other hostages and people being killed by continuing violence in Iraq.

"Norman went there to stop this madness and this madness is still continuing," he said.

Tim Nafziger, a London-based CPT member, said: "Some of the grief and pain we have been through is something that is a daily thing for Iraqis."


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific