The continued captivity of German engineers taken hostage in Iraq over two months ago is leading to a sense among some Germans that the government is not doing enough to secure their release.
At regular vigils in Leipzig, frustration over the lack of progress is growing
On Thursday evening at a vigil in Leipzig, family members of engineers René Bräunlich and Thomas Nitzschke and employees of the company they work for, Cryotec, expressed indirect criticism of the federal government regarding their attempts to obtain the men's freedom.
According to Karin Berndt, a spokesperson for Cryotec, a general feeling was spreading that Berlin made greater efforts to ensure the releases of Susanne Osthoff, an archaeologist who was taken hostage in Iraq, and the family of former state secretary Jürgen Chrobog, which was seized in Yemen shortly after Christmas. Both Osthoff and the Chrobog family were released unharmed by their captors.
"I have the impression that in those cases … other standards were applied," said Berndt at the latest of the regular vigils that are being held in the engineers' hometown.
The crisis team dealing with the kidnapping has had little success
She said many people could not understand that even after 11 weeks of work by the crisis team assembled after the men were taken hostage, no progress had been made. The Osthoff and Chrobog cases were resolved more quickly, she said.
"The importance of those cases shouldn't be considered higher than the case of our co-workers," she said, calling on the federal government "to pull out all the stops to support the work of the crisis team."
Christian Führer, the pastor of Leipzig's Nikolaikirche, joined in the calls for more action by the government, saying it should explore all the possible options, including "asking for the help of other nations, for example Arabic states."
According to a report in the newsmagazine Focus, the kidnappers are asking for a ransom of 9.9 million euros ($12 million) for the men's release. The magazine based its report on sources close to the crisis team, which has contacts to middlemen in Iraq.
On Friday, the foreign ministry refused to comment on the report.
A still image from the lastest video clip of the kidnapped engineers
After analysis of a new video of the hostages posted on an Islamic Web site on Sunday, the magazine report says the crisis team is not ruling out the possibility that the hostages had been "sold" to a criminal organization in Iraq. The political demands made by the hostage takers, which have changed several times over the course of time, indicate to analysts that a criminal group could be involved.
Bräunlich, 32, and Nitschke, 28, were kidnapped in northern Iraq on January 24 while working on several short-term contracts for the Cryotec firm. The latest video, which was dated March 28 and is 24 seconds in length, showed both men looking drawn and haggard.
"We have been held captive here for more than 60 days," pleaded Nitzschke as he addressed the German government. "We are close to breaking point. Please help us. Please help us."