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Germany

Freed German Hostage to Return to Iraq, Despite Warnings

The German government responded critically to news that Susanne Osthoff, recently freed from hostage in Iraq, was planning to return to the country regardless of Berlin's warnings.

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Susanne Osthoff is intent on returning to the country in which she was held hostage

In her first public appearance since she was freed by her Iraqi kidnappers on Dec. 18, German archaeologist Susanne Osthoff said her kidnappers were not criminals.

Speaking to Doha-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera on Monday, Osthoff, 43, said her captors told her not to be afraid as her kidnapping was "politically motivated."

Ruprecht Polenz

German parliamentary Ruprecht Polenz wants Osthoff to change her mind

"Do not be afraid. We do not harm women or children and you are a Muslim," she quoted them as saying.

"I was so happy to know that I had not fallen into the hands of criminals," she said.

Little understanding

Yet Osthoff's proclaimed intention to return to Iraq to continue her humanitarian and professional work has drawn the wrath of the German government.

"It is regretful that Ms. Osthoff is not following the appeal of the German government not to return to Irak," said Ruprecht Polenz, president of the German parliamentary committee on foreign affairs.

"She is precisely the one who should clearly see the risk of such a decision," said Polenz.

German officials seem particularly irked by Osthoff's decision in view of the government effort that went into organizing her release. Only eight days after gaining her release, politicians are calling for levying a financial penalty as a consequence if Osthoff should ignore their warnings and return to Iraq.

Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Susanne Osthoff

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier is also urging Osthoff to stay away from Iraq

"After the intensive efforts of all parties involved over a period of three weeks in the end led to her being released, I would have little understanding if Ms. Osthoff found herself again in a dangerous situation," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

"I am appealing to Ms. Osthoff to distance herself from the plans of going back to Iraq," Steinmeier said. And SPD parliamentarian Lothar Mark said Osthoff should realize "the German tax payer would not finance another release effort should she once again be taken hostage."

Osthoff herself has not responded to the German government's criticism of her plans, but Claudia Roth, the head of the Green Party, has said she can understand that someone as dedicated as Osthoff to helping the people of Iraq would want to return.

"In our democracy, it is good and right that people can make free decisions. ... Ms. Osthoff should decide for herself what she wants to do," Roth said in the Wednesday edition of the daily Handelsblatt.

Noble intentions

Osthoff, a Muslim convert and fluent Arabic speaker, said her captors demanded German humanitarian aid for Iraq's Sunni Arabs and stated clearly they did not want a ransom, but instead sought humanitarian aid for building schools and hospitals.

She described her captors as "poor people" and said she "cannot blame them for kidnapping her, as they cannot enter (Baghdad's heavily fortified) Green Zone to kidnap Americans."

She said she lived with her captors in a clean place and that they treated her "well."

But she repeated more than once that she "was sold," without making clear what she meant. She also expressed her shock at Berlin's failure to contact her captors.

"I could not believe that the Germans had not made any contact," with her kidnapers she said, describing her feelings during captivity.

24 days in captivity

Susanne Osthoff frei Martin Esterl Bürgermeister von Glonn

The sign in Osthoff's hometown reads "Susanne Osthoff is free again! Thank you!"

Osthoff and her Iraqi driver Shalid al-Shimani were seized on Nov. 25 in Iraq's northwester Nineveh province. Osthoff was freed on Dec. 18.

She was the first German national to be kidnapped in Iraq, and many questions remain unanswered about her ordeal. According to German press reports in November, shortly after Osthoff was siezed, the kidnappers set an ultimatum of a few days for Germany to change its policy towards Baghdad as the price for her release.

Berlin has refused to send troops to Iraq but has been helping to train Iraqi policemen, although not on German soil.

A picture has emerged of Osthoff in the German press as a dedicated humanitarian and historian who was well aware of the risks of life in Iraq but remained because of her close ties to people there.

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