German engineers kidnapped in Iraq return home
3 May 2006, BERLIN - A weary-looking engineer said Wednesday as he and a workmate returned to their native German soil that he was glad just to be alive after 99 days in the hands of Iraq kidnappers.
3 May 2006
BERLIN - A weary-looking engineer said Wednesday as he and a workmate returned to their native German soil that he was glad just to be alive after 99 days in the hands of Iraq kidnappers.
In arrival statements on the tarmac at Berlin's Tegel Airport, Thomas Nitzschke, 28, and Rene Braeunlich, 33, thanked German diplomats for negotiating their release and friends for their constant support.
Both men looked pale and had rings of tiredness under their eyes, but appeared otherwise healthy.
"We're very happy to be alive, which we don't take for granted. We now want to see our families and make sure they are okay too," said Nitzschke, just before an emotional reunion in private with family and friends who had feared they would never see the two again.
A Foreign Office state secretary, Reinhard Silberberg, appealed to the media to leave the two men alone after their "very hard time."
"Please grant them the peace and isolation that they and their loved ones need so badly," he said.
Doctors who examined the two men at the German embassy in Baghdad earlier found them exhausted but uninjured, officials said.
Reporters said a public welcome for the men in their eastern German hometown, Bennewitz, or the nearby city of Leipzig, where 27 vigils were held in 13 weeks for their release, might be delayed for several days while the men recovered psychologically.
Officials said the two appeared to have been captured by bandits seeking money rather than by terrorists with political aims. The German government declines to say whether it paid a ransom or not.
A senior official, Foreign Office state secretary Gernot Erler, said on BR television: "Any disclosure in that direction could inspire copycats." A ministry spokesman reiterated later that Berlin would not disclose details of the two engineers' release.
Apart from impacting on any investigation into the kidnappings, any public comment could hamper future efforts to secure the release of similar hostages, the spokesman told a Berlin news conference.
After Nitzschke and Braeunlich were captured in January, the only signs that they were alive were several disturbing and threatening videos made by their kidnappers.
Erler said Berlin had been frustrated that it could not contact the abductors to negotiate with them.
He said other governments and allied intelligence services had helped secure the hostages' release.
Erler said Berlin believed the men had been captured by the "Iraqi hostage-taking industry." Iraq's ambassador to Germany, Alaa al- Hashimi, also said on television that the kidnapping appeared not to have been politically motivated.
At a meeting of the German cabinet Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the work of the special crisis team that had been set up in the Foreign Office to secure the two engineers' freedom.
Both men were employed by Cryotec, a small German company with a workforce of 15 that makes compressors and other equipment used in handling liquid nitrogen and oxygen.
Cryotec said it intends to train Iraqis to complete work at a chemicals factory in Bayji, 180 kilometres north of Baghdad.
People of the Leipzig area, including members of Braeunlich's football team, mounted a campaign for the men's release.
"We've a feeling of utter joy and gratitude," said Lutheran pastor Christian Fuehrer who led the prayer vigils. Cryotec staff and friends of the hostages were gathering Wednesday evening for a thanksgiving service at a city church, the Nikolaikirche.
Subject: German news