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Official: German hostage in Iraq released

A German archaeologist kidnapped by gunmen in Iraq three weeks ago is free, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Sunday.
German archeologist Susanne Osthoff was released after being held hostage for three weeks in Iraq.
German archeologist Susanne Osthoff was released after being held hostage for three weeks in Iraq.Peter Hinz-rosin / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A German aid worker and archaeologist kidnapped in Iraq with her driver has been freed after three weeks in captivity, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced Sunday night.

He did not disclose any details about Susanne Osthoff’s release.

“I am glad to be able to announce to you ... that Mrs. Susanne Osthoff is no longer in the hands of the kidnappers,” Steinmeier said at a hastily arranged news conference. “As of today, she is safely in the care of the German Embassy in Baghdad.”

He added that “our impression after talking to her is that she is in good physical condition.”

It was not immediately clear if Osthoff’s driver also was freed. Steinmeier left the news conference without taking questions.

The woman’s brother, Robert Osthoff, told The Associated Press that German police informed him of his sister’s release just a few minutes before Steinmeier’s announcement.

“We’ll light candles, pray, and then perhaps we’ll get our peace and quiet back,” he said. “I’m happy, I’m overjoyed, that’s all I can say.”

He said officials did not tell him how his sister was freed.

Abducted Nov. 25
The 43-year-old Osthoff and her driver disappeared Nov. 25 in northern Iraq. Days later, the two were shown in a videotape blindfolded and sitting on a floor, with militants — one armed with a rocket-propelled grenade — standing beside them.

The captors threatened to kill the hostages unless Germany stopped dealing with the Iraqi government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded that her country would not be “blackmailed.”

The previous chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and refused to send troops — a stance that Merkel, who took office Nov. 22, has said will not change. Germany does, however, train Iraqi soldiers and police outside their country.

Osthoff, a humanitarian worker who had studied archaeology, was working on the renovation of historic buildings in Mosul when she was taken hostage, local officials said.

German authorities have not identified her captors, although the weekly Der Spiegel said the kidnappers used the name Saraya al-Zilzal, or Brigades of the Earthquake.

Steinmeier said the government was “very happy” about the end of the drama, which posed the first major crisis for Merkel’s government just days after it took office.

Osthoff’s family, German Muslim leaders and prominent figures, including Schroeder, had made public appeals for her release.

In the Bavarian town of Glonn, where Osthoff lived for several years, the mayor hung a sign reading “Thank you!” outside the town hall next to a photo of the former captive.

Morocco pleads for hostages' release
Separately, the son of one of two Moroccan Embassy employees kidnapped in Iraq nearly two months ago went on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network on Sunday to plead for their release.

The driver, Abderrahim Boualam, and the employee Abdelkrim el Mouhafidi, disappeared Oct. 20 while driving to Baghdad from the Jordanian border. Al-Qaida in Iraq, the insurgent group led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and responsible for numerous kidnappings of foreigners, said it abducted the men.

The son, who was not identified in Sunday’s broadcast, said his father and his colleagues had no political role at their embassy.

“My father is just a simple worker who makes tea and the other is a simple driver,” Boualam son said. “They worked for more than 25 years in Iraq and lived with Iraqi people through all tough conditions, and they are married to two Iraqi Muslim women.”