German hostage Susanne Osthoff freed in Iraq

19th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

19 December 2005, BERLIN - German aid worker and archaeologist Susanne Osthoff, 43, was freed Sunday, three weeks after being taken hostage in Iraq, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin.

19 December 2005

BERLIN - German aid worker and archaeologist Susanne Osthoff, 43, was freed Sunday, three weeks after being taken hostage in Iraq, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin.

Steinmeier confirmed an earlier statement by Osthoff's brother, Robert Osthoff, saying the former hostage was safe and well inside the Germany embassy in Baghdad.

"My sister has a brave heart," Robert Osthoff said. "She never wanted to be politically active. ... She only wanted to help."

Steinmeier declined to give further information on the circumstances of her release or whether a ransom had been paid. Osthoff, a convert to Islam, was the first German to be kidnapped in Iraq since the war, which Germany opposed.

"She is no longer in the hands of the kidnappers. As of today she has been in the safety of the German embassy in Baghdad," he said.

"Our impression after the initial conversations with her is that she is physically well. The kidnappers have stated that they will also release the driver. We are very happy at the outcome."

Steinmeier thanked all who had contributed to the happy end of the drama including "our partners here and in the region".

"Nevertheless, our thoughts go out to those who are still hostages in Iraq," Steinmeier said. "Germany appeals urgently to the kidnappers to transfer them to safety."

Several Westerners have been taken hostage in Iraq in recent weeks.

Osthoff was kidnapped on November 25 near Irbil in northern Iraq along with her driver, Khalid al-Shimani. The abductors demanded in a video message delivered on a DVD that Germany stop training Iraqi police.

In Berlin, the Foreign Office said it was too early to say when Osthoff would return to Germany.

A German news magazine, Focus, had claimed Saturday that an Iraqi group named "Army of the Mujahedin" had abducted Osthoff, suspecting her of being a spy for the West. But that group denied on its website having anything to do with the kidnapping, "directly or indirectly".

The group, which boasts of its attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, said, "The Army declares that it is innocent and has nothing to do with these groups that falsely complain to belong to it and whose activities contradict the way and the principle of holy war."

Experts in Iraq have speculated that a criminal gang may have been behind Osthoff's kidnapping. Pretending to be an Islamist group would be a way of stepping up fear and squeezing out a bigger ransom.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly said that Germany does not give in to extortion.

Osthoff, who has a 12-year-old daughter living in Germany and is divorced from her Iraqi husband, had lately been distributing medications and other aid in Iraq.

Martin Esterl, mayor of the small town of Glonn in Bavaria where Osthoff formerly lived, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur: "It's a huge relief to us all."

He said he shared the joy of the many people who had campaigned hard for her release.

The German Council of Muslims also welcomed the news, with its chairman, Nadeem Elyas, saying, "May God spare our country, the German people and the whole world from such criminal acts in future."

DPA

Subject: German news

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