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Germany

No Progress in German Hostage Crisis

The German government has no news so far of two German hostages in Iraq after a Friday-night deadline set by their captors expired. Berlin is still trying to establish contact with the kidnappers.

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There has been no word from the kidnappers since this video from Jan. 31

Government sources in Berlin said on Monday that a special crisis team is continuing efforts to establish contact with the kidnappers who've been holding the two German engineers captive since Jan. 24.

In a videotape broadcast last week by Qatar's Al-Jazeera television network the hostage takers said they were from a group calling itself "Followers of Unity and Prophetic Tradition" and made demands towards the German government, including closing the German embassy in Baghdad, ending all collaboration with the new Iraqi government and withdrawing German companies operating in Iraq.

In the videotape, the kidnappers gave Germany 72 hours to act on their demands.

The two hostages, Rene Bräunlich, 31, and Thomas Nitzschke, 28, work for a German gas equipment installation company and were snatched near the Baiji oil refinery compound by armed men in military uniforms.

As in the case of the abduction of German archeologist Susanne Osthoff about a month ago, chancellor Angela Merkel refused to give in to the demands underlining that Germany would not be blackmailed. But leading German politicians, including president Horst Köhler, have renewed their pleas for the release of the hostages.

"I'm gravely concerned about the fate of the two Germans," Köhler said. "We can only hope now that they will come back safely."

German Muslims offer help

Germany's largest Islamic groups have joined in public appeals for the lives of the hostages. The chairman of the Islamic council in Germany, Ali Kizilkaya, wrote in a newspaper on Monday that it was regrettable that religion was being abused once again and all of Islam brought into disrepute.

Teilnehmer einer Mahnwache an der Leipziger Nikolaikirche

People in the hostages' hometown of Leipzig have expressed their solidarity

Nadeem Elyas, former head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany recalled Germany's fierce opposition to the Iraq war saying the two German engineers should be seen as innocent bystanders.

That organization's new leader, Ayyub Axel Köhler, has said the group is ready to offer assistance to secure the hostages' release.

"We may have possibilities that others do not have. We are ready to help," he said, adding that he was surprised that Berlin had no been able to make progress in the case. "It is astonishing that the German government, with all its staff and its crisis unit which has done such excellent work, has not been able to achieve that."

Worries about effects of caricatures

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has praised all efforts that are being made but adds that it is unknown whether the hostages are even still alive.

Aussenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier informiert über die deutschen Geiseln im Irak

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier has had little news to report on the crisis

"Germany as a whole is deeply concerned, including of course the government," he said. "We've been trying to establish contact with the kidnappers for many days, but our efforts have failed so far. That is why we can only appeal to the hostage-takers once again to release the hostages or at least get in contact with German authorities."

Steinmeier also expressed fears that anti-European protests in the Arab world over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, originally published in a Danish newspaper, could worsen the situation of the hostages.

In addition, experts say the kidnappers could belong to the al Qaeda network of militant Islamists, which would make it less likely that a ransom payment would secure the hostages' release.

Susanne Osthoff, who was kidnapped in Iraq in November, was released 24 days later amid reports that a ransom had been paid.

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