Family and friends of Christian peace activists held captive in Iraq said they were encouraged that a videotape aired Saturday showed them alive but worried about their captors’ latest threats to kill them.

Christian Peacemaker Teams said in a statement they were “grateful and heartened” to see James Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden, Tom Fox and Norman Kember alive on a tape dated Jan. 21 and aired this weekend on Al-Jazeera. “This news is an answer to prayer,” the statement said. “We continue to hope and pray for their release.”

But the group said it remains “very disturbed” about the Nov. 26 abduction of the four team members, described as “peace workers who have not collaborated with the occupation of Iraq and who have worked for justice for all Iraqis, especially those detained.”

“We continue to believe that what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments in their illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people,” the statement said. “We continue to call for justice and human rights for all who are detained in Iraq. The innocent should not suffer in the place of those who have done wrong.”

Kember, 74, is a longtime member of Harrow Baptist Church in London. The Baptist Union of Great Britain urged prayer for his safe release, along with that of the other hostages, in December.

The videotape showed the four men looking haggard and gaunt. It was accompanied by renewed threats by kidnappers that they would kill the hostages unless U.S.-led forces release all Iraqi prisoners.

The kidnappers, who call themselves “The Swords of Righteousness Brigades,” set several deadlines in December for the U.S. to release its prisoners. All passed without further word.

Religious groups all over the world–both Christian and Muslim–have prayed for the hostages and called for their release.

The National Council of Churches, U.S.A., together with, posted an online petition that generated more than 15,000 signatures, calling for their release.

Religious groups have also urged the release of journalist Jill Carroll, who was captured Jan. 7 and threatened with death unless all women prisoners in Iraq are released.

The Council of American-Islamic Relations on Thursday called for “the immediate and unconditional release of Jill Carroll, a journalist with a well-documented record of objective reporting and respect for both the Iraqi people and Arab-Islamic culture.”

“We ask that her captors show mercy and compassion by releasing her so that she may return to her family,” CAIR said. “Certainly, no cause can be advanced by harming a person who only sought to let the world know about the human suffering caused by the conflict in Iraq.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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