Berlin works against the clock to save Iraq hostages
1 February 2006
BERLIN/BAGHDAD — Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Wednesday Berlin would do everything “possible and necessary” to secure the release of two kidnapped German engineers in Iraq.
His statement came as Iraq called on the German government not give in to the abductors’ demands to cut its diplomatic and business ties with Baghdad.
“I call on the German government not to respond to the kidnappers demands because they are blackmailing to get a ransom,” said Wafiq al-Samera’e, security advisor to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, while describing the kidnappings as “barbaric”.
Concerns about the safety of the two engineers have grown following an ultimatum from the kidnappers threatening to kill the hostages within 72 hours unless Germany closes its embassy in Baghdad and withdraws all German companies from Iraq.
The threat was contained in a video broadcast on the pan-Arab al- Jazeera network on Tuesday.
Emerging from a cabinet meeting, Steinmeier said the government believed that the situation facing the two engineers, Rene Braeunlich and Thomas Nitzschke, had become increasingly serious.
“Naturally we will do what is possible and necessary to ensure their release soon,” said Steinmeier, appealing to the kidnappers to release the two Germans, who were working in Iraq for a Leipzig-based company, Cryotec GmbH.
Steinmeier did not directly comment on the kidnappers’ ultimatum but described the video, which showed the two Germans kneeling before a group of heavily armed men, as evidence of the abductors’ “contempt for humans.”
“We all are naturally affected and shocked by the pictures,” Steinmeier said.
The video is dated January 29 meaning the ultimatum could run out on Wednesday.
The release of the video, which was also received but not broadcast by the German state television ZDF, increases the pressure on the crisis team in Berlin set up to secure the men’s release.
Braeunlich and Nitzschke were kidnapped early last week in the northern city of Bayji, about 200km north-west of Baghdad, and are two of at least 12 Westerners currently being held hostage in the country.
They were sent to Iraq to help install machinery at a plant which manufacturers cleaning agents.
Leipzig residents have been staging vigils as part of an effort to bring about the release of Braeunlich and Nitzschke.
The kidnappers were from a group calling itself Kataib Ansar al- Tawhid wa al-Sunna (Brigades of Followers of the Holy Unity and Example of the Prophet), according to the broadcast.
However, German terror expert Kai Hirschmann warned that the ultimatum to kill the two engineers bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda’s frontman in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Jordanian-born terrorist leader is the most wanted man in Iraq.
A German archaeologist kidnapped in Iraq late last year was later released amid unconfirmed reports that a ransom was paid.
Subject: German news