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Friends pray for NRI abducted in Iraq

Indo-Canadian Harmeet Singh Sooden is among four peace workers taken captive in Iraq nearly three weeks ago.

india Updated: Dec 15, 2005 11:35 IST
Gloria Suhasini (IANS)
Gloria Suhasini (IANS)

Friends of a Canadian of Indian origin who is among four peace workers taken captive in Iraq nearly three weeks ago are anxiously hoping that he will be released unharmed.

Canadians Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and James Loney, 41, Briton Norman Kember, 74, and American Tom Fox, 54, were abducted on November 26 by a little known group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.

The four were part of an aid mission with the Christian Peacemaker Team.

The captors have threatened to execute all the hostages unless all Iraqi prisoners in the country are released. Since then two deadlines have passed but there is no word on their fate.

While people across Canada are worried about the fate of two of their countrymen, Sooden's friends are agonised by the silence of the captors and are frustrated by their own inability to do anything to save him.

"When I first heard the news, I could not believe that this was the same person I knew back in school. I felt I should do something about it but did not know what to do," Ravi Gehani, who was Sooden's classmate at McGill University in Montreal from 1991 to 1995, said.

The two took several courses together at the university where they were undergraduate students of engineering.

"I remember he was sitting next to me while waiting for our turn to register for courses during first week of school. That's where our friendship started," recalled Gehani, now a Mississauga resident.

Atallah Mourad, another of Sooden's friends during college days, felt the same way. But he sounded rather cynical.

"I don't know if anything could be done to save Harmeet and the other three," Mourad said.

"As an engineer, I face problems to which I can always find solution. But here I have to just sit and wait."

Both Gehani and Mourad have signed petitions for the release of the hostages and have been forwarding the email petition to their family and friends, urging them to do the same.

"Hopefully this will have some impact in getting message out there... that he is not a spy or agent. He is out there to help the people of Iraq and doing good for the people there," said Gehani, who also worked with Sooden at Nortel Networks in Ottawa.

"We used play squash at the Nortel gym. He was an excellent squash player and gave me a few pointers," Gehani recalled.

"Having Indian (ethnic) background, I remember we used to have several discussions on Indian food, places to visit in India."

Sooden, who was born in Kashmir, grew up in Zambia before moving to Canada. He left Canada and moved to New Zealand three years ago where he went back to school to study English to make a career change from engineering to teaching.

Mourad, 33, who works for a technology company in Montreal, had similar pleasant times to remember.

"We used to have many friends in common and do things like studying together, sharing meals, going out for drinks. I also remember that he was very good at squash and he gave me a few introductory lessons.

"I am hoping he, along with the others, will be released soon and will return home safely. For sure I will catch up with him, when he returns to Canada," Gehani said optimistically.

Sooden's worried family members are reportedly planning to travel to Iraq should his captors release him.

Sooden's father, Dalip Singh Sooden, mother Manjeet Kaur, sister Preety Brewer and brother-in-law Mark Brewer are hopeful that he will be released.

First Published: Dec 15, 2005 11:35 IST