Germany Rejects Demands
German politicians remained resolute in the face of video threats warning of terror attacks on the country and the execution of two German hostages being held in Iraq, saying they will ignore the demands for the withdrawal of Bundeswehr troops from Afghanistan.
Germany "won't be blackmailed," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on Monday.
German soldiers and police officers serving in the Asian nation are there to stabilize Afghanistan and in this role are also "fighting for our own security," the minister said.
Schäuble said that Germany was taking the threat seriously.
"We are part of a global danger zone," he said. "In times when we were not affected, we did not succumb to the illusion that that we were not threatened like the British, the Spaniards or others," he said in reference to the London and Madrid bombings.
An alarming position
Wolfgang Bosbach, the interior expert for the conservative CDU/CSU group in the Bundestag and a party colleague of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said German troops' mission in the north of Afghanistan and the deployment of German Tornado reconnaissance jets in the south would continue despite the threats.
"We in Germany are in a persistent and alarming position in regard to this menace, and we also know that foreign policy decisions can change the security situation in Germany," Bosbach said in an interview with the Rheinsiche Post newspaper published on Monday.
"But it would be a major mistake if we were to stay out of the fight against international terror. Therefore, the security position will not change and neither will the decision on the Tornado deployment in Afghanistan."
The Bundestag decided on Friday to deploy six Tornado jets to provide reconnaissance assistance to NATO troops in southern Afghanistan ahead of an expected spring offensive from Taliban fighters.
Peter Struck, a former defense minister and currently leader of the Social Democrats in the German parliament, announced that the Bundeswehr deployment in Afghanistan would continue "at least for another decade."
"It must be clear to everybody that the reconstruction of the country is only possible if the Taliban are defeated," said Struck in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Berlin crisis team working on release
Meanwhile, the German foreign ministry's crisis team continued to work on the release of the two German hostages kidnapped in Iraq. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on the weekend that everything was being done to secure the release of Berlin-born Hannelore Marianne K. and her adult son.
Steinmeier said the crisis team believed that the kidnappers have criminal intent and that they are holding the hostages for ransom and for an ideological reason.
The 61-year-old woman and her son were seized on Feb. 6 by armed men who burst into their family home in Baghdad. A video of them was released over the weekend, showing the woman, who is married to an Iraqi professor, begging for her and her son's life.
"I'm asking you to help me," she sobbed in the video broadcast. "We're Germans as well. These people want to kill my son before my eyes and then kill me. I don't want to die like this," she said in German.
The video showed three masked militants of a little-known group calling itself the Brigade of the Arrows of Righteousness standing behind the woman, who was wearing a loosely tied headdress and holding the hand of her son crouching next to her.
One of the masked men demanded the withdrawal of all of Germany's approximately 3,000 troops in the relatively stable north of Afghanistan, where it commands the International Security Assistance Force, within 10 days. "Otherwise," he said, "you will not even see one corpse for these two agents."
Al Qaeda Web site broadcasts terror threat
The video's release was followed by a threat broadcast on an al Qaeda linked Website which warned Germany and Austria of retribution if they did not pull their troops out of Afghanistan.
A masked man read out a statement in the video message, posted on the so-called Voice of the Caliphate Web site in Arabic with German subtitles, saying: "Germany's participation in the US war on Islam and Muslims will lead only to... endangering Germany itself. We wonder where Germany's interest lies in throwing 2,750 troops (to Afghanistan)... to fight in defense of the lies of (President George W.) Bush and his gang."
As the flags of Germany and Austria appeared in front of a burning background, the man added: "In standing by the United States... you have provoked those whom you call terrorists to target you."
Also on Sunday, a prominent Egyptian Islamist Sheikh Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar al-Masri, called Sunday on the militants to release the German hostages.
"I plead with you -- for the sake of Allah -- to immediately free the two captives," al-Masri told German news agency DPA, in a message directed at the militants.
Prominent cleric urges militants to free Germans
Al-Masri, the former imam of a mosque in Milan, said he saw the video. Al-Masri himself was reportedly kidnapped in Italy and then taken to Cairo in 2004. He was released briefly and detained by Egyptian authorities as a terrorist suspect, and was recently released.
"I am your brother in Allah, who was kidnapped from the streets of Milan on 27 February 2003 by CIA agents, following campaigns where I condemned the injustice of the US State Department towards the Afghan and Iraqi people," he said in his message.
Al-Masri, who in his own words spent "four years in captivity, (and) imprisonment," urged the kidnappers not to kill the mother and her son.
"What are the German mother and the son guilty of? What have they got to do with the foreign policy of their country?" he said, adding that Muslims in the West "face troubles" and that killing the German citizens will have even more negative effects.
"Have mercy on your (Muslim) brothers and let go of the German mother and her son," he added.