BAGHDAD, Iraq — A peace group blamed the United States and Britain for the abduction of four activists shown in an insurgent video, saying the kidnapping was the direct result of the occupation of Iraq.
Meanwhile, in the central town of Baqouba, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a minibus early Wednesday, killing nine construction workers and wounding two others, the Diyala police said in a statement.
After a monthslong hiatus in the kidnapping of foreigners, television footage on Tuesday once again showed Westerners held captive: A German archaeologist — bound and blindfolded — knelt among masked gunmen in one video. Four frightened peace activists were shown in another blurry tape.
The latest attacks are part of a new wave of kidnappings police fear is aimed at disrupting next month’s national elections.
Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group that has had activists in Iraq since October 2002, said it was saddened by the video of their workers. The workers, the group said, were working against the occupation of Iraq.
‘The result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K.’
“We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people,” the group said. Video: Another kidnapping in Iraq
The group listed the names of those abducted as Tom Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va.; Norman Kember, 74, of London; James Loney, 41, of Toronto, Canada; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, of Canada.
“We are some of the few internationals left in Iraq who are telling the truth about what is happening to the Iraqi people,” the statement said. “We hope that we can continue to do this work and we pray for the speedy release of our beloved teammates.”
On Tuesday, Al-Jazeera broadcast video of the four men held by a previously unknown group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. The group claimed they were spies working under the cover of Christian peace activists.
Loney, a community worker, was leading the Christian group’s delegation in Iraq.
The brief, blurry tape was shown the same day a television station displayed a photo of the German hostage. The kidnappers threatened to kill Susanne Osthoff and her Iraqi driver unless Germany halts all contacts with the Iraqi government.
Tough line from Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Wednesday that her government will “not let ourselves be blackmailed” by the Osthoff’s kidnappers.
Osthoff and her Iraqi driver were kidnapped Friday, and German’s ARD public television said it obtained a video in which the kidnappers made their threats. The station posted a photo on its Web site showing what appears to be Osthoff and her driver blindfolded on the floor, with three masked militants standing by, one with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Merkel said nothing was yet known about the motives or background of the kidnappers but that the government was doing “everything in its power” to return her and her driver to safety.
A German newspaper, the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung, reported that Osthoff had received a kidnap threat last summer from extremists linked to al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and that U.S. soldiers brought her from Mosul to Baghdad for her own safety.
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, said he was unaware of the report but if true, such a move would have been with the knowledge of the German government and “we would ultimately leave it to them” to comment.
Germany has ruled out sending troops to Iraq and opposed the U.S.-led war, but has been training Iraqi police and military outside the country.
Fears of a new wave of abductions
Iraq was swept by a wave of kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners in 2004 and early 2005, but such attacks have dropped off in recent months as many Western groups have left and security precautions for those who remain have tightened. Insurgents, including al-Qaida in Iraq, have seized more than 225 people, killing at least 38.
It was unclear whether the recent kidnappings were the work of a single group or simply coincidental. However, police believed they may be part of an insurgent campaign to discredit the government and disrupt the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.
“Terrorists will try to destabilize the situation during the election period” in order to discourage people from voting, police Maj. Falah Mohammedawi said. “They will try to do this through kidnappings, assassinations and threats to citizens. We have our complete security plan to confront this.”
U.S. and Iraqi officials hope a big turnout in the December election will undermine the insurgency and improve chances for the United States and its partners to begin reducing troop levels in Iraq next year.
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