German Hostage Freed in Iraq Freed Osthoff Not Heading Home Yet
Mystery surrounds Sunday's release of archeologist Susanne Osthoff, the only German to be held hostage in Iraq. The Berlin government is keeping silent about whether a ransom was paid and it's unclear when, and even whether, she will return to Germany.
A recent picture of released German hostage Susanne Osthoff.
Friends and relatives are overjoyed at the release of Osthoff, kidnapped in northern Iraq on November 25 by an unknown Islamist group. She was the first German among the over 200 foreigners to have been kidnapped in Iraq since the war in March 2003. The circumstances of her release haven't been disclosed.
The government, which refused to comply with the kidnappers' demand that it cease all co-operation with the Iraqi government, did not say whether any ransom had been paid. The Munich newspaper Abendzeitung, however, said money had changed hands and that a friend of the family had come up with part of the funds.
Despite the group's demand, made in a video tape delivered to the Baghdad office of the ARD television network last month, terrorism experts have said they suspect the group was more interested in money than politics.
A foreign ministry spokesman said Osthoff was unhurt after her 23-day ordeal but that she didn't want to face the press at the moment. "She wants to spend a few days with her daughter away from public attention and will therefore presumably not be returning to Germany for the time being," the spokesman said. He said she would be leaving Iraq soon, however.
Osthoff's brother Robert told the n-tv television news channel, "I know my sister is a strong person, a very strong person. And I hope that she hasn't suffered any psychological damage." He said he hoped the family would be reunited for Christmas. "I'll cook a goose. I hope my sister will be there. That would be a great Christmas." Her mother Ingrid, whom she has not seen for five years, said she hoped to see her soon. Susanne Osthoff has a 12-year-old daughter who is being brought up by friends. She is separated from her Jordanian husband and has spent most of her time in Iraq in recent years.
Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, respected in the Arab world because he opposed the Iraq war in defiance of US President George W. Bush, had appealed for her release in a recorded television message broadcast in Iraq on December 7. The family had become increasingly concerned because there appeared to be no contact between the German government and the kidnappers.
Osthoff, from the town of Ebersberg near Munich, speaks fluent Arabic and had converted to Islam. She has worked for a German consulting firm and the "Direkthilfe Irak" charity for a number of years, transporting drugs and medical equipment to Iraq.
She won an award for bravery from the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper for being the first civilian to transport medical supplies to Baghdad from Jordan at the height of the war in 2003. Earlier, she worked on archeological digs at historical sites in the war-torn country. She had been travelling north to set up a cultural center in the town of Arbil when she was kidnapped.
Despite concern for her safety and praise for her courage in helping Iraqis, Osthoff has been criticised in Germany for taking risks even though she had been repeatedly warned that she may be a target. Osthoff's sister appealed last week to the German public to demonstrate its solidarity, but only 350 people joined her at a vigil by Berlin's central Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday evening.
The action paled by comparison with the emotional demonstrations seen in France and Italy when their citizens were being held.
More than 200 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped since the U.S.-led forces invaded the country in 2003 to topple the government of Saddam Hussein. Fifty-two foreign hostages are known to have been killed by their captors. At least five Western hostages -- two Canadians, a Briton, an American and a Frenchman -- are still believed to be held hostage in Iraq. Their fate remains unknown.
Separately an Iraqi militant group posted a video on the Internet claiming to show the killing of a U.S. hostage kidnapped earlier this month. The video showed a gunman firing repeatedly into the back of a blindfolded man, kneeling on the ground. The group said the man was U.S. contractor Ronald Schulz. The video was posted 11 days after the group said they had killed him because the US government had failed to meet its demands, including the release of prisoners in Iraq.
No officials have confirmed the killing.