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Freed Iraq hostage Kember returns to Britain

Freed Christian peace campaigner Norman Kember flew home to Britain on Saturday following his dramatic rescue by special forces soldiers after being held hostage in Iraq for nearly four months.
/ Source: Reuters

Freed Christian peace campaigner Norman Kember flew home to Britain on Saturday following his dramatic dawn rescue by special forces soldiers after being held hostage in Iraq for nearly four months.

Kember, 74, a retired professor of medical ethics, arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport at 1225 GMT on a scheduled British Airways flight from Kuwait, where he had been flown in a British military transport plane from Baghdad on Friday afternoon.

Relief at his escape was tempered by senior British military criticism that Kember had apparently failed to thank the soldiers who rescued him and his colleagues.

“I am slightly saddened that there doesn’t seem to have been a note of gratitude for the soldiers who risked their lives to save those lives,” British Army chief General Michael Jackson told Channel 4 news on Friday.

Kember was rescued on Thursday with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) colleagues Harmeet Sooden and Jim Loney -- both Canadians -- manacled but unhurt and unguarded from a house in a Sunni insurgent area to the west of the Iraqi capital.

The fourth hostage, American Tom Fox, was found two weeks ago, tortured and shot dead.

Sooden, 32, and Loney, 41, headed to Baghdad airport on Saturday to begin their journey home, a colleague said.

Tim Nafziger, a CPT member in London, said his organization had thanked the military rescuers but had to be careful to avoid endangering the neutral status of other peace workers in Iraq and elsewhere.

“The CPT has made clear statements that no soldiers should risk their lives trying to save them. That has made it a difficult issue,” he said.

“If the CPT are seen to be associated with the occupying force, they put a barrier between them and the people they are working with.”

The CPT said in a statement published on its Web site: “We are grateful to the soldiers who risked their lives to free Jim, Norman and Harmeet.

“As peacemakers who hold firm to our commitment to non-violence, we are also deeply grateful that they fired no shots to free our colleagues,” it added.

A lifelong committed Christian, Kember had protested against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and had gone to Baghdad to spread his message of peace.

Christian teams
Kember’s wife Pat had described her husband’s decision to go to Baghdad as “silly”, but said she accepted the need he felt to give his pacifism an active side before he got too old to do so.

CPT emerged in 1989 out of the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quaker Friends Society and the Church of Brethren to send teams of Christians trained in techniques of non-violent action to conflicts around the world.

It has had a presence in Iraq since 2001.

As a member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship, Kember was part of the delegation that in September 2002 presented British Prime Minister Tony Blair with a petition against going to war in Iraq. He later took part in anti-war demonstrations.

Kember is a trustee of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Christian peace group, and a trustee of Pax Christi’s Christian Peace Education Fund.