HARMEET SOODEN: New video footage
shows a marked change, his family
Hostage family's hopes shatter30 January
It was what the Sooden family have been waiting for
– a knock at the door with news of their peace activist son
and brother held hostage in Iraq.
But a police officer's early morning
visit with news that the kidnappers had renewed a threat to
kill Auckland student Harmeet Sooden, 32, and three other
Western hostages shattered their hopes he had been freed.
New video footage showing the hostages
was broadcast on al Jazeera television at the weekend. It was
the first news of them since December 7, when their captors,
the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, said they would be killed
on December 10 unless Iraqi prisoners were freed.
The video showed the hostages – Mr
Sooden, Briton Norman Kember, American Tom Fox and Canadian
James Loney – standing against a wall. The grainy footage,
filmed in a dark room, appeared to be dated January 21. The
hostages seemed to be speaking to the camera but their voices
could not be heard.
A statement received with the tape and
read on air said the kidnappers were giving a "last chance" to
United States and Iraqi authorities to "release all Iraqi
prisoners in return of freeing the hostages, otherwise their
fate will be death".
Mr Sooden's brother-in-law, Mark Brewer,
said it was a relief to see him alive but the video had turned
the Auckland-based family's world upside down.
They were woken about 4am yesterday by a
police officer with what they thought would be news that he
had been freed.
"We all just froze, you go numb. Since we
saw a blue uniform at the door we thought it was someone to
tell us that he had been released," Mr Brewer said.
"It's almost a feeling of seeing a
Christmas tree but there's no presents under it."
The family spent yesterday watching
international news on television and searching internet sites
for information. They had not seen a full copy of the video
but were shocked by Mr Sooden's appearance. "He looked
changed, he has a beard and his hair is long. He has lost
weight and he looks quite dishevelled."
The family watched the footage repeatedly
for hints as to whether the captors' threats were genuine. "We
are very optimistic. But waiting like this ... is quite
excruciating. We're reading between the lines, grasping at
straws. That's all you can do."
Mr Sooden's parents, Dalip and Manjeet
Sooden, have applied for New Zealand residency so their son
has a family home to return to when he is freed.
"They don't really know what to do or
where to turn or what to say. It's just a very, very trying
time," Mr Brewer said.
Prime Minister Helen Clark had phoned the
Soodens to offer her support, Mr Brewer said.
Miss Clark said she was delighted that Mr
Sooden had been seen alive and urged the captors to free the
"All four were on a peaceful mission to
Iraq and were motivated purely by a desire to help the Iraqi
The Government would continue to liaise
with Canadian officials who were trying to secure the
Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams,
of which the hostages are members, said it was "grateful and
heartened" to see the men alive.
Muslim scholars and activists worldwide,
including leaders of the militant Hamas and Hizbollah groups,
have appealed for the release of the aid workers.
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