Canadian hostages not shown in video

A video issued by the captors of four Christian aid workers in Iraq shows the U.S. and British hostages but not the two Canadians.

The latest video issued by a group holding Christian aid workers in Iraq suggests that the fates of the hostages – two Canadians, an American and a Briton – may be diverging, perhaps because Canada stayed out of the Iraq war.

American Tom Fox, 54, and Briton Norman Kember, 74, are shown in orange jumpsuits with their hands chained and eyes taped over, a scene that has reminded British viewers of pictures of Ken Bigley, a Liverpool engineer who was kidnapped in Iraq last year, before his captors beheaded him.

The Canadian hostages – James Loney, 41, of Toronto and Harmeet Sooden, 32, who has lived in Montreal – are not seen in the video, which was broadcast on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

BBC correspondent Caroline Hawley said it was "pretty disturbing" that only two of the four men, all members of a Christian Peacemaker group, were shown.

"I think the hostage takers are clearly trying to differentiate between them because Canada doesn't have troops here in Iraq and Britain and America do," she said.

The kidnappers, calling themselves the Swords of Righteousness Brigades, originally threatened to kill the four unless all Iraqis being held in U.S. and British custody were released by Thursday. As that deadline approached, it was extended to Saturday.

In the video, Kember addresses a plea to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"I have been opposed to this war, Mr. Blair's war, since the very beginning, but I ask him now, and the British government, to do all that they can to work for my release and the release of the Iraqi people from oppression," he tells the camera.

Peacemakers accused of being spies

The kidnappers accuse the four of being spies – which the Peacemaker group denies – despite the fact that they and the group are far from being supporters of U.S. and British policies in Iraq. According to its website, the group's actions in Iraq are aimed at "focusing attention on the issue of detainee abuses and basic legal and human rights. ..."

Politicians and religious leaders around the globe, including a radical Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada, speaking from an English jail, have called on the kidnappers not to harm the four men.

So far, however, the kidnappers appear unmoved.

In the video, they dismiss British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's plea to contact him. They say Straw is lying and doesn't want to talk.

Straw urges hostage-takers to "get in touch"

Straw said in response: "These four men are all campaigners for peace, dedicated to the helping of others, and we ask for their release. The message of this latest statement is not clear. If the kidnappers want to get in touch, we want to hear what they have to say."

The four were kidnapped at gunpoint on Nov. 26 in Baghdad.

On Wednesday, relatives of James Loney talked to reporters in Sault Ste, Marie, Ont.

His father, Patrick Loney, could not speak, his exhaustion evident. Instead it was James' brother Edward who said the family was thinking not only of their situation but were also praying "for other families facing similar circumstances in Iraq."

"We want James home," said another brother, Matthew Loney. "We want the other members home. And we want a peaceful resolution to how things are going over there," he said.

PM "absolutely committed" to getting men freed

Prime Minister Paul Martin says he is concerned about the fate of the Canadians. "I've been on phone every day and we're doing everything we possibly can. But it's a matter of such delicacy I can't really comment," he said.

In a statement released late Wednesday evening Martin went further. "I want to reassure the public that the government of Canada remains absolutely committed to securing the safe release of the hostages. Every resource of the government is committed towards achieving that outcome.

"Canada remains willing to listen to and speak with persons who may have information that will assist in the safe release of the hostages," said the statement.

There was support from around the Arab world, as well.

Mohammed Ayash of the International Solidarity Movement for Palestine, said the hostages are peacemakers, friends of Muslims and defenders of Iraqi detainees "because they are working there as human rights [supporters] and are against the occupation," he said.