Kidnapped Briton was quiet pacifist who felt drawn to war zone

But in the aftermath of the war he ultimately could not stop, the dedicated churchgoer and pillar of his community in north-west London had been troubled by a desire to become more closely involved with the conflict. Six months ago, he wrote: "Personally it has always worried me that I am a 'cheap' peacemaker. Being in Britain talking, writing, demonstrating about peace is in no way taking risks like young servicemen in Iraq. I look for excuses why I should not become involved."

On Saturday, Mr Kember, a self-effacing man who declined social engagements to concentrate on his peace campaigning, paid a grim price for running out of excuses not to witness the suffering of Iraqis for himself.

Two weeks ago the professor, distinguished by his shock of white hair and his six foot-plus frame, left the modest detached house he shares with his wife in a tree-lined avenue in Pinner for the battle-scarred streets of Baghdad. In circumstances that last night remained unclear, he was kidnapped along with two Canadians and an American in a suburb of the city.

Mr Kember, a father-of-two and grandfather who is a leading member of his local Baptist church and was a radiation physicist at Barts Medical College and the University of London, now finds himself at grave risk of becoming a victim of the war he had campaigned so vigorously against.

His group, who were investigating human rights abuses, had reportedly been travelling with "minimal security" when they were seized in the west of the city after dark on Saturday.

The men were in the final days of a two-week fact-finding trip with a Canada-based humanitarian organisation, Christian Peacemaker Teams (PCT). The group, which was working with Iraqi groups and was not involved in missionary work, had been due to return on Friday.

Mr Kember, a man described as "absorbed in his faith", had attended faith conferences in South America and Europe, but this was the first time that Mr Kember had been to Iraq or any war zone.

The absence of any news of the four men's well-being or demands from their captors gave rise to fears that the motive for their abduction may be political rather than financial.

The Foreign Office said that a multinational "hostage crisis" team had been set up in Baghdad to try to secure the release of the men. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said that the Iraqi authorities had pledged "every assistance" to free the captives.

In a separate incident, two Britons were killed and three injured yesterday when gunmen ambushed a minibus carrying Shia pilgrims to religious sites south of Baghdad. The dead men were named as Saifuddin Makai, 39, from Streatham, south London, and Husain Mohammedali, 50, from Harrow, north-west London.

Yesterday Mr Kember's neighbours in Pinner expressed surprise that he was in Baghdad. One man said: "I was surprised to see him in Iraq at all, let alone in trouble. I knew him as a quiet adventurer, someone who travelled a lot around the world. But guns in Baghdad is something else."

But friends of Mr Kember and his wife, Pat, a retired teacher, who was being comforted by family members last night at an undisclosed location, underlined the retired researcher's devotion to the causes he cherished.

One of the Kembers' daughters, also a teacher, and her husband travelled from their home in Dorset yesterday to be with her mother.

The Rev Alan Betteridge, president of the UK Baptist Peace Fellowship, who has known Mr Kember for more than 40 years, said: "Norman is a very committed worker for non-violence and peacemaking. He is a very gentle man, quiet, with a good sense of humour.

"He does not try to force his views on people - a listener rather than a talker and very committed to what he believes. I hope he has the opportunity to tell his captors about his work."

CPT, a pacifist group based in Toronto which cites the removal of coalition forces from Iraq as one of its aims, declined to comment on the abductions.

Mr Kember was part of a delegation of around eight people who had gone to Iraq to meet local human rights campaigners and assist with the setting up of a Muslim peacemakers' organisation. The organisation had sent four previous civilian delegations to Iraq.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test