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Peace Activist Fox Remains Captive in Iraq


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm John Ydstie.

We turn now to Iraq. A deadline set by kidnappers, of American reporter Jill Carroll passed yesterday with no word of her fate. U.S. officials have been meeting with Sunni Arab leaders who may have links to the people who are now holding her hostage. Meanwhile, other Americans are being held in Iraq, including military contractors and a mild-mannered peace activist from Northern Virginia, who was abducted nearly two months ago.

Reporter Eric Niiler reports on what made Tom Fox leave home to wage peace in Iraq.

ERIC NIILER reporting:

Tom Fox has lived a tranquil life for most of his 54 years. A Quaker, he loves hiking solo in Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains. In Baghdad, he would play a wooden recorder on the roof of his apartment building.

Cliff Vedy(ph) worked in Iraq with Fox as a member of the Chicago-based group, Christian Peacemaker Teams. Vedy said Fox is a great listener.

Mr. CLIFF VEDY (Member, Christian Peacemaker Teams): Tom's a serious, thoughtful person, trying to sense how to nurture the best in the other person as he begins a conversation.

NIILER: Those listening and negotiating skills may now save his life. Fox and three of his comrades were grabbed November 27, by a group calling themselves The Swords of Righteousness. There's been no word of their fate since the capturers threatened to kill the four men on December 10th. Vedy said he's hopeful that Fox and his captors are talking to each other.

Mr. VEDY: Yeah, we don't know what's gonna happen, we don't know who's holding them, we don't know what the dynamics are. We don't know what's going on, there may be some amazing interactions taking place right now and I guess that's where my hopes are.

NIILER: Friends say Fox did not go to Iraq looking for trouble; he was driven by a sense of helping other people and his strong feelings against war. That may seem odd from someone who joined the Marine Corps Band after college to fulfill his military service during the Vietnam era.

After two decades playing clarinet in a Marine uniform, Fox got a job at this Whole Foods grocery store in Springfield, Virginia. Among the gourmet cheeses and free-range chicken, he worked his way up to Assistant Manager. Coworkers here said he was a quiet, easygoing guy who once got a poor job review because he was not tough enough on his own employees. But, in 2002 he began to lose interest in work, something inside was calling.

Mr. MICHAEL ADAG, (Worked with Tom Fox at Whole Foods): Tom is a great leader. When he left here it was like, when he was leaving it was like a lot of people were saddened.

NIILER: Michael Adag (ph) worked with Fox at Whole Foods. He says the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. government response led Fox to re-evaluate his life about three years ago and quit his job. Every Friday night, friends of Fox gather at the Langley Hills Friends Meeting House in Falls Church, Virginia. They hold silent vigils and keep up each other's spirits.

Marge Epstein said Fox reached a point where his two children were grown and he wanted to become a full-time peace activist.

Ms. MARGE EPSTEIN (Member, Langley Hills Friends Meeting House): And it caused him to think about the number of days, hours, minutes that he had left on this earth and what he'd like to do with them. And more to the point, what he felt he was called to do with them. So, he went about this in a very deliberate and orderly fashion.

NIILER: Since 2003, Fox made three trips to Iraq, each time returning home to speak about his work. In October the last time Epstein spoke to Fox, he said he was concerned about the increasing danger.

Ms. EPSTEIN: I feel anxiety for Tom I want him back. At night, when I am laying in bed in my comfortable room I wonder whether he's cold, I wonder whether he's had enough to eat. But I'm not conflicted.

NIILER: Epstein says she supports the conditions that Fox and the other activists made in case they were held hostage, no ransom, no armed rescue and no punishment for the captors. Fox's daughter and son have pleaded for his release. Muslim leaders in the U.S. and Iraq have also made appeals to let the four men go.

For NPR News, I'm Eric Niiler.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Niiler
Eric Niiler reports for NPR's national desk. His work can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and other NPR newsmagazines. Before moving to his current post, Niiler was a reporter for NPR's Day to Day program, and also filed pieces for NPR's national and science desks.