Anatomy of the Baghdad hostage rescue
CTV.ca News Staff
Canadian, British and American authorities spent months intensively – and, for the most part, unsuccessfully -- hunting for three foreign aid workers taken hostage November 26 in the violent, treacherous cauldron of Baghdad, Iraq.
The frustration ended on Wednesday night when U.S. soldiers picked up a young Iraqi who was associated with the kidnappers, and he spilled the beans on the hostages' location.
After the prisoner drew a sketch of the northwestern Baghdad house and surrounding roads, coalition forces deployed unmanned spy planes to the area, which surveyed the neighborhood and captured images.
Just hours after the military received the intelligence, 50 soldiers, with British special forces troops in the lead, swarmed the location before dawn Thursday in a convoy of civilian pickup trucks and cars disguised as taxis.
About 25 soldiers stormed the two-storey home, searching every room simultaneously. They found the three hostages bound together in a ground-floor room. A British soldier used a bolt cutter to remove the heavy chains from the hostages.
The entire operation was swift, taking only a couple of minutes.
Soldiers fired no shots and the captors were nowhere to be seen. One theory is the captors knew the soldiers were coming. Another is their lookout saw the soldiers coming and the kidnappers fled before the raid.
The Christian Peacemaker Teams members, Briton Norman Kember, 74, and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 33, were unharmed.
Tom Fox, a 54-year-old American also taken hostage on Nov. 26, had been murdered earlier in the month.
The mission, led by Britain's secretive Task Force Black, involved the work of several Canadian agencies, including the RCMP, Department of Defence, CSIS and soldiers from the elite counterterrorism unit JTF 2.
The intelligence sharing and execution details, developed before the last-minute piece of information came to light, were "several weeks in the planning," said British Defence Secretary John Reid.
Timeline following the abduction
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs set up a crisis team immediately upon learning of the abduction.
When no ransom note emerged from the little-known group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigades, Canadian officials knew they were dealing with radicals.
With this determination made in the first two weeks, the department searched for qualified staff to lead a recovery mission.
They dispatched a team in early December that included foreign officers and RCMP officers, who stayed in violence-stricken Baghdad.
Liberal MP Dan McTeague, a former parliamentary secretary responsible for Canadians abroad, said the group discreetly made inquiries around Baghdad about the disappearance.
They also repeatedly said the hostages were humanitarian workers. Arab TV channel Al-Jazeera helped by broadcasting messages sent from the families, and local clerics and non-government organizations spread the word.
At the same time, Canadian officials agreed to work with U.S. and the British in a military mission to free the hostages.
Washington made it clear they would strike as soon as they discovered the location of the hostages. They feared, correctly, that Fox was in the most danger.
His bullet-riddled body was found earlier this month.
U.S. security officials had called Ottawa several times in the last few months to say they were on the verge of rescuing the activists, but the efforts fell through repeatedly.
While Canadian officials have yet to acknowledge JTF 2's participation, a source has said the force was "instrumental" in the final operation that freed the captives.
Pentagon and British military officials have said Canadian and British special forces took the reins of the ground operation.
Kember's church, meanwhile, has said UK authorities gave an assurance the men would not be rescued unless they were reasonably confident no one would be killed.
"We were impressed by the sensitivity with which it responded to our concerns about any possible use of force in any rescue attempt," Rev. Bob Gardiner, of Harrow Baptist Church, told the BBC.
The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence would not comment on whether any such promises were made.
With files from The Canadian Press
© Copyright 2002-2006 Bell Globemedia Inc.