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Tape shows 4 peace activist hostages in Iraq

Kidnappers of four kidnapped Christian peace activists threatened to kill them unless all Iraqi prisoners are released from Iraqi and U.S. prisons, according to a new tape broadcast Saturday.
A new videotape broadcast Saturday showed four kidnapped peace activists.
A new videotape broadcast Saturday showed four kidnapped peace activists.Al-Jazeera
/ Source: The Associated Press

Kidnappers of four kidnapped Christian peace activists threatened to kill them unless all Iraqi prisoners are released from Iraqi and U.S. prisons, according to a new tape broadcast Saturday.

Elsewhere, a bomb killed 11 people in a shop in the town of Iskindiraya south of Baghdad overnight, Iraqi police said on Sunday.

The bomb, which had been planted just outside the shop, also wounded five people, the police said.

On Saturday, Al-Jazeera TV aired a tape dated Jan. 21 showing the four workers — two Canadians, an American and a Briton — from the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker activists, who disappeared Nov. 26. The previously unknown Swords of Righteous Bridge claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

The newsreader said the group issued a statement with the tape saying it was the "last chance" for U.S. and Iraqi authorities to "release all Iraqi prisoners in return of freeing the hostages otherwise their fate will be death."

Al-Jazeera editor Saad al-Dosari declined to say how the station obtained the tape, which was about 55 seconds in length. He said all the tape was aired.

Canadian hostages James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32; Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Virginia, and Norman Kember, 74.

More than 250 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam, and at least 39 have been killed.

German hostages appeal for help
In a separate kidnapping case, two German engineers abducted this week in northern Iraq appealed to the German government to work for their release in a videotape broadcast Friday by an Arab TV station. It was the first sign of the pair since they were seized three days ago.

A video image taken from footage aired by Arabic news broadcaster Al Jazeera on January 27, 2006, shows two German engineers held hostage in Iraq. Their voices were inaudible, but Al Jazeera said the video, which had a time stamp of Jan. 24, the day of their abduction, showed the two men urging Berlin to help secure their release. USA OUT ONLINES OUT SKY NEWS OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVES REUTERS/Al Jazeera via Reuters Television.

The tape showed the two engineers, identified by relatives as Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich, seated on the floor with at least four armed men standing behind them.

The timer shown in the corner of the tape, aired by Al-Jazeera television, indicated it was filmed at 10:08 a.m. Jan. 24, less than two hours after they were abducted in the northern industrial city of Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

The German hostages were seen speaking but Al-Jazeera did not broadcast any audio and the station did not report any demands beyond the hostages calling for German government intervention to secure their release.

A handwritten black banner was shown on the tape reading: “Supporters of Tawhid and Sunnah Brigades,” a previously unknown group. Tawhid is the Arabic word for monotheism and Sunnah refers to the teachings of the prophet Muhammad.

Germany describes video as 'distressing'
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the video images as “distressing” and that his ministry’s crisis unit was evaluating the recording.

Steinmeier said the German government would do everything it can to secure their release, telling reporters: “We will proceed with care. I promise that on behalf of the government.”

An Al-Jazeera editor, who declined to be identified because he was unauthorized to speak to the media, said the tape received by the station was only about 35 seconds long. He declined to say how the tape was obtained.

Germany’s ZDF television said in a statement that it also had the video message, which it said showed the two hostages speaking in German and giving their names and that of their company, Leipzig-based Cryotec Anlagenbau AG.

The channel said it was unclear whether the kidnappers had made concrete demands.

Nitzschke and Braeunlich arrived in Iraq on Jan. 22 and only planned to remain “for a short time,” the German Foreign Ministry said.

Their employers, Cryotec, has a commercial relationship with an Iraqi government-owned detergent company in the industrial town of Beiji, where Brazilian engineer Joao Jose Vasconcelos Jr. was also kidnapped on Jan. 19, 2005. His whereabouts remain unknown.

The first German kidnapped in Iraq was Susanne Osthoff, an aid worker and archaeologist who disappeared with her Iraqi driver in northern Iraq on Nov. 25. Her release was announced Dec. 18.

In Berlin, Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler told ARD television that no contact had been made with the kidnappers and a ministry crisis unit “is working constantly to save the two engineers.”

Threat to American journalist
At least five foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq this month — including two Kenyan communications engineers missing after an ambush in Baghdad on Jan. 18 and American journalist Jill Carroll, who was seized Jan. 7 in the capital. Her translator was killed.

Carroll’s kidnappers have threatened to kill the 28-year-old freelancer unless all Iraqi women are freed from custody.

The U.S. military released five Iraqi women detainees Thursday, and a top Iraqi police official, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamel, expressed hope the move might help win Carroll’s freedom and said intensive efforts were underway in Baghdad to try and find her.