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SITE In The News
Hostage's family endure chilling silence
By Angela Gregory
Published in: New Zealand Herald
December 12, 2005

The family of the Auckland University student held hostage in Iraq are holding on to hope in the face of an unnerving silence from his captors.

Frustrated negotiators have failed to make contact with the shadowy group called the Brigade of the Swords of Righteousness which said it would execute Harmeet Singh Sooden and three companions on Saturday.

The four, who belong to Canadian charity the Christian Peacemakers Team, were taken hostage on November 26.

Mr Sooden's brother-in-law, Mark Brewer, said no news was good news.

"We think, nothing bad has happened which is encouraging for us, but of course we want this just to end, so the sooner the better," he told 3 News.

The Observer newspaper in Britain reported Anas Altikriti, from the Muslim Association of Britain, as saying hopes of communicating with the hostage-takers had been dashed.

"There's been nothing at all,' said Mr Altikriti who went to Iraq to press the case for the release of 74-year-old Briton Norman Kember.

"I just came out of a meeting with people I hoped to get information from, but there was no news.

"We're where we were two days ago. Until you get bad news you continue to hope for the best."

The silence was "deafening" since the announcement on Thursday of a two-day extension to an execution deadline that passed on Saturday.

Mr Altikriti said it was a major concern that the negotiators could not contact the hostage-takers. No one he had spoken to in Iraq seemed to know anything about them.

But Mr Altikriti reiterated that the hostages could still be freed.

There was conjecture in overseas media about whether the group was linked to al Qaeda.

A Washington group, the Search for International Terrorist entities, has reported more than 100 insurgency groups claiming to be waging jihad in Iraq, some affiliated with al Qaeda.

Its director, Rita Katz, told the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail that she doubted al Qaeda's involvement in the kidnapping as she believed they would have killed the hostages by now.

A security analyst with London-based Control Risks Group told the newspaper there were loosely three categories of kidnappers in Iraq: criminal gangs wanting money, Shia groups wanting to assert control, or Sunni hardened ideologues.

There has also been debate about whether the nationality of the captors would have any bearing on the outcome.

Videos released so far indicated the Canadians were being treated more leniently.

In the latest video only Mr Kember and Mr Fox were shown.

They were blindfolded, chained and wearing orange jumpsuits, just as had Ken Bigley, the British engineer who was beheaded by his captors last year.

Who is being held?

* Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, was taken hostage on November 26 with 74-year-old Briton Norman Kember, American Tom Fox, 54, and Canadian James Loney, 41.

* They all belong to Canadian charity the Christian Peacemakers Team.

* The kidnappers said they would execute the four on Saturday.


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