Wednesday, May 03, 2006

German Hostages to Return Home Wednesday

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced Tuesday that the two German engineers held hostage in Iraq since Jan. 24 have been set free.

Steinmeier, in the midst of a state visit to Chile, said he had spoken to the men, Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Bräunlich, and that they were well, considering the circumstances, the German news agency DPA reported.

"I am happy to tell you that the two kidnapped Leipzigers, Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Bräunlich, are, as of today, free again," Steinmeier said from Santiago de Chile.

"After more than three months of inhumane conditions, they are now safely in German hands in Iraq and will, according to the current plans, return to Germany tomorrow."

"I am very relieved and happy that the German hostages in Iraq have been freed," Chancellor Angela Merkel said of the men's release.

So far, it appears that the men were let go as a result of negotiations with the hostage-takers. The German foreign ministry had established a task force devoted to the release of the hostages shortly after they were kidnapped.

It was not clear whether ransom money had been paid. In a press conference on Tuesday evening, task force member Reinhard Silberberg thanked those who had contributed to the men being let go. He said that, as in the past, the government would not comment on the circumstances of their release.

Nitzschke, 28, and Bräunlich, 32, were kidnapped in northern Iraq while working for the German engineering firm Cryotec.

Their kidnappers circulated a series of three videos during the men's period of captivity in which the hostage-takers laid out demands for their release.

In the last video, which appeared on the Internet on April 9, Nitzschke spoke, calling for help. "We can't stand it much longer," he said. The men had been threatened with execution.

Their captors, a group called Ansar al-Tawheed wal Sunna (Followers of Unity and Prophetic Tradition), demanded the release of all Iraqis held in US-run prisons and told Germany to stop giving help to the US and Iraqi authorities there.

Deutsche Welle 05/2006