TORONTO (CP) - A gruelling four-month ordeal for two Canadian peace activists and a British colleague held hostage in Iraq ended Thursday in a bloodless military operation by multinational forces, delighting family and supporters back home.

The members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were taken to hospital for observation in Baghdad but were released in good condition, the organization said from Baghdad.

Jim Loney, 41, of Toronto, Harmeet Sooden, 32, formerly of Montreal, Norm Kember, 74, of London and an American co-worker were snatched at gunpoint off the streets of Baghdad Nov. 26 by a shadowy group of kidnappers.

The families of the three rescued hostages were overjoyed.

"You could say 'euphoric' is the word," Matt Loney, brother of Jim Loney, told The Canadian Press from Vancouver.

"It's the happiest day I've had in 115 days."

In Toronto, the co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams expressed delight the three had been released without violence.

"There were indeed no gunshots fired," said Doug Pritchard.

"There were no captors present at the time the men were found."

The Iraqi Interior Ministry said the captives were freed in a rural town about 25 kilometres northwest of Baghdad.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said planning had been in the works for "weeks and weeks" but gave few details.

"I'm delighted that now we have a happy ending to this terrible ordeal," Straw said.

Loney's sister-in-law Donna Laframboise said their hearts "definitely jumped" when they were alerted to the release of the hostages by Loney's parents, Pat and Claudette, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

"We're pretty happy about it. I think we're in a bit of shock maybe, a bit of disbelief," Laframboise said in an interview.

"We hugged each other and there were a few tears of joy."

But the earlier murder of the fourth kidnapped Christian activist, American Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va., cast a pall over the release of the trio.

Fox's bullet-riddled body was found dumped on a Baghdad street March 10 just days after his captors released a video from which he was ominously missing.

"We would also like to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Tom Fox," Laframboise said on behalf of the Loney family.

Fox's slaying was definitely the lowest point of the ordeal, Matt Loney said. "It was a blow to our hopes at that point."

Besides have lost about 20 pounds, Jim Loney told his mother that he was well and that his main concern was for his parents.

"Oh what a joyful day this is!" the family said in a statement.

Loney is expected to return to Canada in the next few days, and the family said it hoped to meet him in Toronto and take him back to "the Sault for a little while," said another brother, Ed Loney.

The Zambian-born Sooden came to Canada from England in the early 1990s to study at McGill University and later a Canadian citizen. He moved to Auckland, New Zealand, two years ago, where his sister Preety lives, to study.

Sooden's brother-in-law Mark Brewer said relatives planned to travel to Baghdad to bring him home. "We're just looking forward to getting hold of him, giving him a big hug," Brewer told TV One News in Auckland.

The freed hostages are members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a non-profit organization dedicated to aggressive pacifism.

Since the kidnapping, Christian Peacemakers has waged a relentless media campaign in an effort to convince the captors, who called themselves the Swords of Righteousness Brigades, to free the men.

The organization enlisted support from around the world, including high-profile Muslims, to persuade the captors that the Peacemakers, too, opposed the U.S. and British invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Pritchard said he was convinced the men are still alive because of the "commitment to peace and justice in Iraq."

Three days after the four aid workers were kidnapped at gunpoint in west Baghdad, the captors claimed responsibility and denounced them as spies in a videotape broadcast by the Al-Jazeera network.

On Dec. 2, the kidnappers released another videotape in which they threatened to kill the hostages unless all prisoners held at U.S. and British detention facilities in Iraq were released by Dec. 8.

The deadline was extended by two days to Dec. 10, but as relatives and friends in Canada and elsewhere waited in anxiety, the time passed without any further word on the fate of the captives.

The silence from the kidnappers lasted until Jan. 28, when Al-Jazeera broadcast another videotape showing the four activists and giving another "last chance" ultimatum to free the prisoners.

On March 7, Al-Jazeera broadcast new videotape showing the three activists apparently calling on their governments to help them.

Fox was not in the video.

Straw expressed regret at Fox's murder Thursday, calling it "a matter of great sorrow to everybody."

Anita David, a member of the Christian Peacemakers in Baghdad, said they were ecstatic at news of their co-workers' release.

"We started screaming," David said. "The only part of this that breaks our hearts is that Tom Fox isn't with us."

Loney, a well-known Toronto community activist, spent many years working on behalf of the homeless.

Kidnappers in Iraq have taken at least 235 foreigners hostage and killed nearly 40 over the past two years. Most have been released, although a number are still missing and believed held by their abductors.

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