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Muslim leader works for release

Published: 7:32AM Sunday December 04, 2005 Source: One News/RNZ

A leading member of Britain's Muslim community has arrived in Iraq to try to secure the release of an Auckland student and three other aid workers being held hostage.

Harmeet Sooden, a Canadian citizen and permanent resident of New Zealand, was doing humanitarian work in Baghdad when he and three others were kidnapped a week ago.

The envoy Anas Altikriti is also representing anti-war groups.

Al-tikriti says the abductors are Sunni Muslims, so he will be talking to influential Sunni Muslim organisations.

He will also meet members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams - the organisation the hostages work for. 

A new video of the hostages was released on Saturday with their captors threatening to kill them unless Iraqi detainees are released by December 8.

Harmeet's brother-in-law Mark Brewer says he felt "numb" watching the footage. He says the family has to keep busy to get through the ordeal of having Harmeet in this situation.

The video, with its chilling message, was shown on arabic television station Al Jazeera.
Harmeet, who has been living in New Zealand for three years, and three other men from Canada, the US and England were taken hostage six days ago in Baghdad.

The group had been in Iraq working with a Christian peace organisation.

Brewer says the captors have the wrong man: "There has been a terrible mistake, Harmeet is a peaceful guy, he is a pacifist by nature and by cause. We just plead and hope they will see that, and take on board the tremendous comments from around the world of support he has had... and that they release him."

The group responsible for the hostage taking is called Swords of Truth - a rebel group unheard of until now. It claims the four men are not peace workers but foreign spies, and they say the men will be killed if Iraqi detainees in prisons across Iraq, the US and the UK are not released.

No specific threats

In a video shown earlier this week no specific demands or threats were made against the hostages lives.

International Relations Expert Robert Patman says this latest threat needs to be taken with some caution.

"The initial demand may be the beginning of a bargaining process. Of course western governments are very weary about getting into specific bargaining situations with hostage takers - people who are prepared to commit horrendous crimes against innocents like this Christian based activist group.

The New Zealand government says it is offering all it can to help with the Canadian effort.

"We have all seen the footage out of Iraq over the last two to three years with hostages being taken. And we need to work very carefully with the Canadian government on a strategy for dealing with this," says Prime Minister Helen Clark.

As Harmeet's family waits it says it is grateful to all of the New Zealanders hoping praying for his safe return.