Germany welcomes release of hostage in Iraq

Archaeologist Susanne Osthoff has been released unharmed

susanne osthoff 88.298ap (photo credit: )
susanne osthoff 88.298ap
(photo credit: )
Germany welcomed the release of the country's first hostage in Iraq and media on Monday praised the government's handling of the situation, but several questions about the three-week kidnapping and release remained unanswered. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced Sunday that Susanne Osthoff, a 43-year-old aid worker and archaeologist, had been released unharmed and was safely in the care of the German Embassy in Baghdad. He said the kidnappers also had promised to release her Iraqi driver, with whom she disappeared Nov. 25. Germany's ZDF television reported Monday, citing unidentified security sources, that the driver was now believed to have been freed. No confirmation was immediately available. Details of Osthoff's possible return to Germany remained unclear. Her brother, Robert Osthoff, told The Associated Press that she had originally planned to be home for Christmas. "I think she will come to Germany," he said. The Foreign Ministry did not return calls seeking comment. On Sunday, Steinmeier refused immediate comment on the circumstances of Osthoff's release and did not say whether she would return to Germany. The kidnapping opened up the first crisis for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, days after it took office Nov. 22. The mass-circulation Bild daily, whose front page headline proclaimed "German hostage free!" said the release was "the best news of Christmas week." In an editorial, it said Merkel's government "brilliantly mastered" the challenge. The chancellor and Steinmeier "quietly and effectively pulled all possible strings to save Susanne Osthoff - with success," it added. "A political verdict is already allowed - the new government has dealt successfully with its first foreign policy crisis," the daily Berliner Zeitung wrote. Days after their disappearance, Osthoff and her driver 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. Merkel said early on that Germany would not be "blackmailed" in the case. Her government has not identified the kidnappers. Germany was an ardent opponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has refused to send troops there - a stance that Merkel has said will not change. However, it has been training Iraqi soldiers and police outside the country.