Iraqi driver suspected in Osthoff abduction case

22nd December 2005, Comments 0 comments

22 December 2005, BERLIN - Susanne Osthoff, 43, who spent more than three weeks in the hands of Iraqi abductors, has left Iraq, the Foreign Office in Berlin said Wednesday, three days after she reached the safety of the German diplomatic mission in Baghdad.

22 December 2005

BERLIN - Susanne Osthoff, 43, who spent more than three weeks in the hands of Iraqi abductors, has left Iraq, the Foreign Office in Berlin said Wednesday, three days after she reached the safety of the German diplomatic mission in Baghdad.

In a new development, Germany's ARD television news reported from Berlin that senior German security officials suspect Osthoff's driver, Khaled al-Shimani, may have been an accomplice of the abductors rather than a victim of the attack.

Osthoff, a solo aid worker and archaeologist who is a longtime resident of Iraq, has told German diplomats she does not want to meet the media. Her family in Germany said they had not heard from her yet.

In a phone conversation with senior Foreign Office official Klaus Scharioth, Osthoff said she wanted to spend a few days in privacy with her 12-year-old daughter, who attends a German boarding school.

Where this would happen has not been disclosed, but the announcement appeared to point to some third country.

A German weekly magazine, Stern, reported Wednesday that the abductors had been identified as members of a western Iraqi tribe, the Duleimi. It said German envoys had apparently been in talks with Duleimi mediators for a period of two weeks.

While the kidnappers did make political demands, telling Berlin it should stop helping the Baghdad government, they were ultimately mainly concerned to receive a ransom, Stern said. Germany has not disclosed if any money was paid.

Shimani, the driver, was shown blindfolded as a hostage on a video delivered to ARD's Baghdad office after the November 25 abduction. Germany sought his release together with that of Osthoff, but diplomats say he has yet to show up at the German embassy in Baghdad.

Solidarity campaigns and televised appeals from Germany during the abduction constantly placed the prominent Osthoff and the driver on an equal footing, demanding that the lives of both be spared, although the driver was not known to anyone in Germany.

ARD, a nationwide chain of public broadcasters, quoted sources saying that a Duleimi sheikh had lent the driver to Osthoff for her overland trip to northern Iraq. German investigators now suspected the sheikh of the abduction.

Anja Osthoff, 35, sister of the ex-hostage, told Germany's Munich- based BR television the family had not heard from her yet.

"It would be lovely to see her. Then we could come to terms with it all," said the sister. She said she could understand Susanne Osthoff's decision to stay away from Germany, as it was probably for the sake of the 12-year-old daughter.

"If they were both to come here, the media would waylay them, and that would be terrible for the child," she said.

Susanne Osthoff, who is a convert to Islam, has little contact with her German relatives. Her mother, Ingrid Hala, says she has not spoken with her daughter for five years.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanked Wednesday the emergency team in Berlin that managed the abduction crisis.

DPA

Subject: German news

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