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Kidnapping Hits Close to Home

Pleas for the release of freelance journalist Jill Carroll come two months after kidnapping of Springfield native.

As the fate of journalist Jill Carroll remains a mystery, a little light has been shed on the condition of Springfield native Tom Fox.

A new tape was aired on the Al Jazeera network Saturday, Jan. 28, showing Fox and his three Christian Peacemaker Teams colleagues, James Looney, Harmeet Sooden and Norman Kember, alive but looking tired and thin. It was the first new information on the four men since a deadline was set for their execution in December if all Iraqi prisoners were not released.

On the tape, which did not feature any audio from the four men, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade stated that if the Iraqis taken prisoner were not released, the men would be killed, but no deadline was set.

The release of the tape coincided with the second-to-last day of a two week protest in the Washington area organized by the Christian Peacemaker Teams, called "Shine The Light." On Saturday, Jan. 28, a group of about 30 activists walked along Route 123 in McLean, in front of the CIA building, carrying lanterns, battery-operated candles and flashlights.

"We are so happy to see that they're well," said Cliff Kindy, a CPT worker who was leading the Saturday protest.

For the past three years, Kindy has gone to Iraq with CPT for five-month deployments not unlike those that Fox and Kember were on when they were kidnapped. He said he's seen a dramatic change in the number of U.S. soldiers who feel a need to stay in Iraq much longer.

"About half the soldiers I've talked to feel that we shouldn't be there," Kindy said. "There's only about 1 percent of Iraqis that support our ongoing occupation."

The release of the video was encouraging, he said, but noted that the work of CPT has become "ironic" since their capture.

"So much of our work in Iraq has dealt with talking to families of people taken prisoner," Kindy said. "Our work is ongoing. This is the work Tom and the others were doing before they were taken and it will continue."

Kindy said he looks forward to the day Fox, Kember and the others return.

"We've seen them. They're OK," he said. "Our peacemaking work goes on."

Brian Crane, a Washington native, said he had taken the chance to join the Shine the Light protest on Saturday because he felt it was "important to stand up for what I believe in. I've heard rumors and allegations that the CIA has been involved in torture and I think that's terrible. I don't know if what we're doing will change that, but I felt it was important to bear witness."

FOLLOWING THE protest at the CIA, the group returned to the Langley Meeting House on Georgetown Pike in McLean before departing for a nightly vigil in front of the White House, where they protested all day Sunday.

Working for peace in Iraq has become an increasingly dangerous job, especially for westerners who want nothing more than to help.

Two weeks ago, a tape broadcast on the Al Jazeera network showed freelance reporter Jill Carroll, 28, who was kidnapped by a group calling itself the Brigades of Vengeance earlier this month. She had been trying to meet with a senior Muslim cleric with whom she’d worked before, while on assignment with the Christian Science Monitor. Her captors had set a deadline of Saturday, Jan. 21, for the release of all eight Iraqi women being held as prisoners or Carroll would be executed. No update or word has come from her captors.

“The demands are very specific, which makes this situation very puzzling,” said Peter Mandaville, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University and director of the school's Center for Global Studies. “It almost leads me to suspect this may be a desperate family member of one of the prisoners who is trying to get their loved one released.”

Mandaville said the capture of Carroll “made even less sense” than the kidnapping of Springfield native Fox and three of his Christian Peacemaker Teams coworkers, who were abducted outside Baghdad in late November.

“In the case of Tom Fox, it may have been a group with the goal of making a point about how wrong it is to have non-Iraqis in Iraq, in their opinion, and they just picked up the wrong people,” Mandaville said.

WITH BOTH PEACE workers and Carroll, leaders from the Muslim world have called for their safe release, Mandaville said, including Adnan al-Dulaimi of the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, the man she was trying to meet with when she was kidnapped.

While both Carroll and the peace workers were living and working closely with Iraqi citizens, the Christian Peacemaker Teams' group had been speaking out against the war, something Carroll did not do.

"My understanding of Jill Carroll's reporting is that she has been looking at the life created for the average people in Iraq since the war began," Mandaville said.

When Fox and his co-workers were taken, the U.S. government took no immediate response, but in Carroll's case, pleas for her release came shortly after news of her capture broke.

"The last group included a mix of nationalities and citizens," Mandaville said. "Perhaps it is easier for the government to comment on one American citizen than a group that involved one American and people from other countries. Then again, it may be more complicated than that."

It is nearly impossible to know what steps are being taken in Iraq to secure the safe release of any of the hostages, he said, but noted the "coincidence" in the planned release of the nine Iraqi women the U.S. has held and the kidnapper's demands for their freedom.

Generally speaking, Mandaville said, hostages in Iraq have not all met a bloody fate. In fact, only 39 of the 239 people taken hostage in Iraq have been killed, he said.

"The statistics seem to be in Jill Carroll's favor. People tend to lead to the conclusion of the beheadings we've seen on television when they hear of someone being taken hostage or kidnapped because those images are the most vivid," Mandaville said.

Springfield resident Corey Saylor was one of two representatives from the Center for American-Islamic Relations that went to Iraq to make a statement on behalf of Carroll and Fox two weeks ago, shortly after news of Carroll’s capture broke.

“CAIR is a large Muslim advocacy group,” Saylor said. “In the course of our work, we have built a tremendous amount of access and credibility with the Muslim media in the Middle East.”

Saylor said he and a coworker spent a week making appeals for the release of Carroll, beginning with a stop in Aman, Jordan for a press conference that was broadcast by Al Jazeera and written up in several major Arabic newspapers.

“We had made a similar appeal for Tom Fox and the other workers to be released when they were initially taken and made another appeal during this trip,” Saylor said.

With the release of the Iraqi women prisoners, only time will tell whether Carroll’s captors will uphold their claims to release her as well, Saylor said.

“This is another opportunity for the kidnappers to release her and reveal themselves to be whatever they are based on what they choose to do.”

Still, Saylor said it would be in the best interest of her kidnappers to let Carroll go free.

“If Jill is not set free to go and tell the story of the Iraqi people, who will,” Saylor said. “They need bridge builders like this. They have to have another form of communication other than the barrel of a gun. Groups like this are stopping the story of the Iraqi people from being told.”

FOR THE PAST two months, friends of Fox have kept a vigil every Friday night at the Langley Friends Meeting house in McLean, hoping for his safe return and believing that no news is good news. Last week, they included Carroll in their prayers for their friend.

"This is all so sad and tragic," said Hoyt Maulden, one of Fox's close friends. "It's hard to feel that her situation isn't more of a tragedy ... she was so dedicated to the work she was doing."

It may be easier for people to sympathize with Carroll's family than with the work of Fox and his team, Maulden said, because "people can relate to a journalist more than with peacemakers."

Still, Maulden hopes people will take the Iraqi people into consideration when thinking about the hostages.

"Tom would want us to make the connection with so many Iraqis who have had family members taken," he said. "This is small compared to what they go through. We need to remind ourselves of that."

As friends and supporters continue to pray for Fox, ongoing conversation has occurred as to what actions may be taken if news of his death is received.

"We are on the cusp of having to make a decision about how to deal with this," said Paul Slattery, another friend of Fox's.

During one Friday night meeting, Slattery said many people spoke of the power of self-fulfilling prophecies, where a belief is held so tightly the outcome of an event can be changed.

"Here we are, trying to decide what to hold as beliefs, trying to influence an outcome in a way we don't quite know how," Slattery said. "We have to keep positive. We don't know what the controls are. We don't know where Tom is or what's going on with him."

One man told Slattery that he had an image of Fox sitting with his captors, eating dates and "changing their minds."

"Tom is quite an accomplished amateur chef," Slattery said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he took over food preparation for the whole group and is making them incredible feasts," he laughed.

Regardless of the outcome, Slattery said the people responsible for taking Carroll and Fox may be making a statement they did not set out to make.

"It's interesting that by taking these people, they're doing the opposite of what they set out to do," Slattery said. "They're bringing attention to how noble and necessary their work is in Iraq."