Deadline Extension ‘A Good Sign’ For EMU-Connected Hostage

By Rob Longley, Daily News-Record

Islamic militants holding former Eastern Mennonite University student Tom Fox and three other hostages in Iraq extended the deadline for the captives’ execution to Saturday, according to Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arab news network.

The network announced the extension late Wednesday night, giving hope to Fox’s friends and family, including many at EMU, that negotiations for the hostages’ release are moving forward.

The militants, calling themselves the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, abducted Fox and three other men on Nov. 26. They initially had threatened to kill the peace activists by Thursday if their demands for the release of Iraqi prisoners had not been met by that time.

Fox, 54, of Clear Brook and fellow hostages Norman Kember, 74, of Great Britain; James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both of Canada, were in Iraq as part of the Chicago-based group Christian Peacemaker Teams.

The men were working with other peace activists to protest the torture of prisoners and other human rights abuses in Iraq, says EMU associate professor Lisa Schirch, a friend of Fox.

Fox took Schirch’s “strategic nonviolence” class while studying earlier this year at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

Extension ‘A Good Sign’

The deadline extension came late Wednesday night as Schirch continued her efforts to help free Fox and the other hostages.

“I’ve been in constant contact with [Christian Peacemaker Teams] and with a lot of his friends and I’ve been working with some of my Muslim students to use their channels,” in the Middle East, she said.

A former student from Iraq, Schirch adds, is working with his contacts there and in Palestine to lobby Islamic leaders for help in freeing the hostages.

The deadline extension is a good sign, Schirch says, as are the calls from Islamic militant groups like Hamas and Hizbollah to free the men.

“I’ve been hearing the [deadline move] is a good sign,” she says. “I’ve been told that means diplomacy may be working.”

‘Hope With All My Heart’

EMU hosted a vigil for Fox and the others on Nov. 30 to pray for their safe return. It was one of dozens of vigils that have been held in the last two weeks around the United States and in the other hostages’ home countries, Canada and Great Britain, according to Christian Peacemaker Teams.

“I just hope, as everyone does, that all four people come out happy,” Fox’s friend, Leslie Keffer-King, 22, of Harrisonburg said at the EMU vigil. “I hope with all my heart.”

Schirch describes Fox as a peace-loving man who “believes in the humanity of every person,” and who was working in Iraq to “lay the foundation for a secure and peaceful society.”

Fox’s daughter, Katherine, echoed that sentiment in a statement released through Christian Peacemaking Teams.

“He remains committed to [the] belief that peaceful resolutions can be found to every conflict,” she said.