BREAKING NEWS: Iraq Militants Release Christian Hostages From Britain and Canada (UPDATE 5)

military operation, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Thursday, March 23.

The released hostages worked for the international conflict resolution group Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and were identified as Briton Norman Kember, 74 and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32.

The body of one American, Tom Fox, 54, was discovered this month, March 10, near a west Baghdad railway line with gunshot wounds to his head and chest. A previously unknown group, the Swords of Righteousness Brigades, claimed responsibility for kidnapping the four workers, who disappeared November 26.

Speaking in London, Straw told reporters Thursday, March 23, that the hostages were released in an operation involving multinational forces, including British troops, and civilians. "This was team work involving the military and civilians."

"HAPPY ENDING"

Straw said he was "delighted that now we have a happy ending in this terrible ordeal." CPT had previously urged the coalition troops however not to use force in any attempt to rescue their co-workers as it opposes violence on principal grounds. 

Straw described Kember as being in a "reasonable condition" in Baghdad's Green Zone, but said the two Canadians needed hospital treatment. No more details about the nature of their injuries were immediately available. They were later moved to the British embassy, suggesting their medical condition was not life threatening, news reports said.   

In a reaction Kember's friend, Bruce Kent, said the release was "marvelous" news. We had a [prayer] vigil yesterday." He said the militants holding the hostages "must have seen they are people of great faith." Kent told Sky News television that while "all need a haircut" it was his
impression that CPT team "looked better than expected" on video footage.

REMEMBERING AMERICAN

Yet Minister Straw also expressed mixed feelings on the rescue operation. "While we reoice in their freedom, we also remember the American, Mr. Fox, who was killed," Straw added. The minister said "it is a matter of great sorrow to everybody that he was killed," earlier this month.

He later confirmed that "no shots were fired" during the rescue operation. CPT said the captors were not present during the operation, but Straw refused to confirm that information.

The four hostages of the Canada and US-based CPT group traveled to Iraq last year as a "gesture of solidarity" with the people of Iraq. But they were snatched in Baghdad on November 26 and a series of poorly-filmed video clips have since been released revealing their ordeal.

It was not immediately clear when they would return home. (With reports from London, Baghdad, BosNewsLife News Center and BosNewsLife Research. Stay with BosNewsLife for continious coverage).

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