Mother of a Canadian hostage held in Iraq pleads for son's safe release

The mother of a Canadian hostage held in Iraq pleaded Sunday for her son to be freed unharmed, days ahead of the date his captors say they will kill him and three other foreign peace activists.

Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and three other members of the Chicago-based group Christian Peacemaker Teams were snatched on Nov. 26 near Baghdad by kidnappers who identified themselves as the "Swords of Righteousness Brigade."

The group has accused the peace workers of spying for foreign forces in Iraq, and has threatened to kill the hostages two Canadians, an American and a Briton unless all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers are freed by Dec. 8, Arabic-language satellite TV station Al-Jazeera reported Saturday.

"I want to appeal to those who are holding my son to release him and his companions unharmed," Singh's mother, Manjeet Kaur Sooden, said Sunday on TV3, a news network in New Zealand, where her son has been studying for the past three years.

"Harmeet ... is a peace-loving man," she said, her voice cracking. "He went to Iraq to do good. I pray those who are holding Harmeet will look into their hearts (and) see the good that is in my son," she said.

TV3 said the mother's appeal would be presented to Al-Jazeera, based in Doha, Qatar. The other kidnapped activists are: Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Virginia, in the United States; Norman Kember, 74, of London; James Loney, 41, of Toronto.

Peggy Gish, a spokeswoman for Christian Peacemaker Teams, also pleaded for the activists' release. "I would appeal to them and say that you are mistaken about who these four men are," Gish said in the Jordanian capital, Amman. "They are really working for peace and justice. They are helping you and other Iraqi people," she said. "I would appeal to them to release the men and allow us to continue our work."

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Sunday that her country has offered assistance in "working toward the safe release of the hostages." "This is a terrible act against humanitarian aid workers who had gone to help the people of Iraq," Clark said.

A New Zealand student activist group, Auckland University Students for Justice in Palestine, was set to hold a vigil Monday to show solidarity with Sooden, and to try to reinforce the message that he is not a spy. "Harmeet is in Iraq solely for peaceful purposes and is passionate about taking an active role in giving humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people," said Miriam Pierard, a spokeswoman for the group. "Harmeet Sooden is not a spy, nor is he an evangelist," Pierard said. "He is a peace lover and an ardent supporter of the oppressed Iraqi and Palestinian peoples", reported AP. P.T.

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