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Two German hostages freed after three months

Two German engineers held hostage in Iraq since January have been released and are safe, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
(FILES) A grab taken from a video posted
German engineers Thomas Nitzschke, right, and Rene Braeunlich appear in a video released by their captors in Iraq. The two men were freed Tuesday after being kidnapped on Jan. 24.AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two German engineers held hostage in Iraq since January have been released and are safe, the German Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

A ministry spokesman said Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich were in the custody of Germans in Iraq. He did not elaborate.

Nitzschke and Braeunlich were kidnapped Jan. 24 from an Iraqi government-owned detergent plant in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

They were shown in a video made public Jan. 31, with their kidnappers demanding that Germany close its embassy and stop cooperating with the Iraqi government.

A second video made public April 9 showed the men pleading for help in front of a banner bearing the name of the kidnappers’ group, the Brigade of Supporters of the Sunna and Tawhid.

German officials hail release
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the men, who are from Leipzig — were in a safe place in Iraq and were being cared for by German officials there. They were expected to return to Germany sometime Wednesday, Steinmeier said.

“Based on initial information, both men are unharmed and in stable condition,” Steinmeier said in a statement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “very relieved and pleased” by the news.

“Their families can now rejoice that they are doing well, considering the circumstances, and that everything necessary is being done to bring them safely back to Germany,” Merkel said in a televised statement.

New violence despite pledge
Iraq’s parliament speaker said in a nationally televised speech Tuesday that the new government’s top priority will be ending widespread bloodshed in cities such as Baghdad. But insurgents launched new attacks, killing at least seven Iraqis and a U.S. soldier.

The worst attack involved a bomb hidden in a parked minibus that exploded in Baghdad’s main wholesale market, killing two Iraqis and wounding five, police said.

In another development, the U.S. command announced that Iraq’s Central Criminal Court had convicted 12 suspected insurgents in April of crimes such as joining a terrorist group. They included two men who were given life sentences for joining al-Qaida in Iraq operations: Hassan Abdullah Muhsin and Mohammed Dhaher Ibrahim Yassen Jazzah.

“Not an hour passes without Iraqis being stricken by the killing of our sons and loved ones in Baghdad and other areas, by booby traps, kidnappings, assassinations, armed clashes, roadside bombs and other brutal terrorist attacks,” parliament speaker Mahmud Dawood al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab, said in a speech on state-run Iraqiya television.

Thousands of Iraqis have been killed in attacks by Sunni-led insurgent groups, foreign ones such as al-Qaida in Iraq, and militias aligned with Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite political parties. Sectarian killings by death squads also mean that the tortured bodies of kidnapped Iraqi civilians are discovered on the streets of cities such as Baghdad nearly every day.

New hopes for calm
U.S. officials hope the new Iraqi government, expected to be finalized this month, will be able to calm sectarian tensions and lure many minority Sunni Arabs away from the insurgency so U.S. and other international troops can begin heading home.

Al-Mashhadani said that is his hope, too.

He said all Iraqis must renounce violence and that Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political parties must rule “by a common vision,” and build police and military forces that can improve security and pave the way for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The London-based Asharq Al Awsat newspaper reported Tuesday that Iraqi insurgents met with the U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad seven times but decided to break off contacts after progress was made toward forming a new Iraqi government.

The newspaper quoted what it described as an Iraqi militant leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that the talks with Khalilzad took place in Amman, Jordan, on Jan. 16 and continued later in Baghdad. According to the newspaper, the purported insurgent said representatives of more than 10 Iraqi resistance groups held talks that were centered on a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials on the report.

Minibus attacked
Tuesday’s worst attack occurred in central Baghdad when the bomb hidden in the minibus exploded in Shorja, a market where wholesalers use warehouses, stalls and shops to sell food, clothing and house products to businessmen and shoppers. At least two Iraqis were killed and five wounded, said Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohamadwi, an Interior Ministry policeman.

Baghdad is filled with privately owned minibuses that charge small fees to take citizens around the often-crowded streets of the capital.

A roadside bomb killed the U.S. soldier at about 9:50 p.m. Monday, about 40 miles south of Baghdad. The area is part of the infamous “Triangle of Death” and the scene of many ambushes of U.S. and Iraqi troops, foreigners and Shiite civilians.

That bombing raised to at least 2,406 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the war in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

It was the first reported U.S. fatality in May. In April, 70 American servicemen died in Iraq, the highest monthly figure since November, when 84 were killed.

Monday’s deadliest insurgent attack in Iraq occurred in Madain, a Shiite town 14 miles southeast of Baghdad, when a bomb exploded in an outdoor market, killing four Iraqis and wounding two.

In other violence Tuesday,

  • A roadside bomb exploded near a convoy carrying American security contractors in Waziriyah, northern Baghdad, wounding at least two of them, U.S. military official said. An Iraqi ambulance driver also was killed, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he died in the blast or gunfire that apparently followed the attack, the official said.
  • A roadside bomb also missed a police patrol, killing one civilian and injuring another one in western Baghdad, said police 1st Lt. Maithem Abdel-Razaq.
  • In Dora, one of the capital’s most violent neighborhoods, a roadside bomb wounded three Iraqi soldiers in a convoy, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein.
  • Gunmen attacked a quarry 25 miles north of Baqouba, killing a guard and kidnapping the quarry owner’s son, police said.
  • Gunmen kidnapped two residents of Buhriz, 35 miles north of Baghdad, police said.
  • Two civilians were killed and one was wounded in two drive-by shootings in two areas of the capital, Nafaq al-Shurta and Yarmouk, police said.
  • The handcuffed, blindfolded and bullet-ridden bodies of eight Iraqi men were found, four in Baghdad and four in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, officials said. On Monday, at least 15 bodies were found in the capital.