BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. and British troops Thursday freed three Christian peace activists in a rural area of Iraq without firing a shot, ending a four-month hostage drama in which an American among the group was shot to death and dumped on a Baghdad street.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the U.S. military spokesman, said the hostages were being held by a "kidnapping cell" in a house, and the operation to free the captives was based on information from a man captured by U.S. forces only three hours earlier.
"They were bound, they were together, there were no kidnappers in the areas," Lynch told a news briefing.
He also said military operations concerning other hostages were ongoing, "probably as a result of what we're finding at this time."
Still missing is Jill Carroll, a freelance writer for The Christian Science Monitor who was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad. She has appeared in three videotapes delivered by her kidnappers to Arab satellite television stations.
When asked whether he had any information about Carroll, Lynch said: "None that I can discuss at this time."
"There are other operations that continue probably as a result of what we're finding at this time," Lynch said. "So you've got to give us the opportunity to work through that."
Meanwhile, at least 56 Iraqis died Thursday in violence, including a car bombing that killed 25 people in the third major attack on a police lockup in three days.
A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance to the Interior Ministry Major Crimes unit in Baghdad's central Karradah district, killing 10 civilians and 15 policemen employed there, authorities said.
A second car bomb hit a market area outside a Shiite Muslim mosque in the mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhood of Shurta in southwest Baghdad. At least six people were killed and more than 20 wounded, many of them children, police said.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said the three captives were rescued northwest of Baghdad between the towns of Mishahda, 20 miles away from Baghdad, and the western suburb of Abu Ghraib, 12 miles away.
The freed hostages were Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and Briton Norman Kember, 74. The men - members of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams - were kidnapped Nov. 26 along with their American colleague, Tom Fox.
The body of Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va., was found earlier this month.
"We remember with tears Tom Fox," group co-director Doug Pritchard said in Toronto. "We had longed for the day when all four men would be released together. Our gladness today is bittersweet by the fact that Tom is not alive to join his colleagues in the celebration."
In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Kember was in "reasonable condition" in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. The two Canadians required hospital treatment, but he gave no further details.
Straw also gave few details of the operation, saying only that it followed "weeks and weeks" of planning.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said he was delighted by the trio's release.
"He is particularly pleased for those released and their families. He congratulates everyone involved in the operation to rescue the hostages," his office said in a statement.
Loney's brother, Ed, told CBC television that his mother had spoken with James on the phone and he sounded "fantastic."
"He's alert and he was asking how we were doing and said he was sorry for the whole situation," Ed Loney said. "My mom said, 'Don't worry about it - just get home and we'll talk about all that stuff when you get here.'"
The kidnapped men were shown as prisoners in several videos, the most recent a silent clip dated Feb. 28 in which Loney, Kember and Sooden appeared without Fox. Fox's body was found March 10 near a west Baghdad railway line with gunshot wounds to his head and chest.
Iraqi police said at the time it appeared that Fox had been tortured because he had bruises and cuts on his body, apparently inflicted before he was shot to death.
But Claire Evans of CPT in Chicago said two group members viewed Fox's body at a military base in Dover, Del., and said it showed no signs of torture.
"We didn't see any signs of torture and we do not believe that he was tortured," Evans told The Associated Press. "There was a Newsweek story that said his throat was slit. We saw no indication of that whatsoever. There was a gunshot wound to the head and gunshots wounds to the chest."
The previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigades claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.
"As we study who could conduct these kinds of operations there seems to be a kidnapping cell that has been robust over the last several months in conducting these kind of kidnappings," Lynch said.
In Fox's hometown, some of his friends learned of the rescues on the television.
"I think there's a bittersweet element to this in that yes, our friend Tom isn't coming home," said Anne Bacon, clerk of the Hopewell Centre Quaker meeting where Fox volunteered. "But we know Tom is with us and that Tom is overjoyed that these men will be reunited with their families."
The Christian Peacemaker Teams said the activists went to Iraq "motivated by a passion for justice and peace." Group volunteers have been in Iraq since October 2002, investigating allegations of abuse against Iraqi detainees by coalition forces. Its teams promote peaceful solutions in conflict zones.
"They knew that their only protection was in the power of the love of God and of their Iraqi and international co-workers," Pritchard said.
He also called for coalition forces to leave the country.
"We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq," Pritchard said.
Other Americans taken hostage in Iraq and killed in addition to Fox were Ronald Schulz, 40, an industrial electrician from Anchorage, Alaska; Jack Hensley, 48, a civil engineer from Marietta, Ga.; Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, 52, formerly of Hillsdale, Mich.; and Nicholas Berg, 26, a businessman from West Chester, Pa.
The last hostage to be freed in a military operation was Douglas Wood, an Australian rescued in west Baghdad by U.S. and Iraqi forces on June 15 after 47 days in captivity.