Government says Sahara Hostages Shouldn’t Profit from Ordeal | Current Affairs | DW | 24.08.2003
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Current Affairs

Government says Sahara Hostages Shouldn’t Profit from Ordeal

The German government has warned the 14 tourists released from kidnappers in the Sahara desert against profiting from their experiences there, saying they should give any money earned from their story back to the state.

The ex-hostages have a compelling story which could prove profitable.

The ex-hostages have a compelling story which could prove profitable.

It can be lucrative to endure a harrowing ordeal, be it kidnapping, a natural disaster or an unusual accident—if one survives, that is. Often the former victim is in high demand by the media and can profit handsomely from television appearances, a compelling book or even movie rights.

But the German government has warned the European tourists freed last week after almost six months in captivity in the Sahara desert against just that, saying they should forward any money made off the experience to the public coffers, to reimburse the state for the expense of freeing them.

"The costs are enormous."

Defense Minister Peter Struck told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that troops from the German military, the Bundeswehr, had been involved with the hostage situation since Easter, first in Algeria, then in Mali.

“The costs are enormous. With consideration for the taxpayer, we should expect that people don’t make a profit from their kidnapping but make fees for photos and stories available to the state,” he told the paper.

While the government is not making figures available, media reports say Germany paid a ransom between $4.6 million and $16.5 million to secure the hostages release from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a group of Islamic extremists which has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

The newsmagazine Der Spiegel has reported that international arrest warrants are being prepared for members of the group, particularly for Amari Saifi, a leading figure also known as Abderazzak el Para. However, a spokesman for the German prosecutors’ office, Hartmut Schneider, would not confirm the report.

A 14 Europeans, nine Germans, four Swiss and a Dutch national, had been held since February in Algeria and then in neighboring Mali. The flew back to Germany from Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Wednesday.

Covering the Costs

The high expense of the months-long attempt to free the tourists has led some politicians to demand that the hostages themselves be required to reimburse the state, at least in part.

“Those who frivolously put themselves in danger just for the thrill of it must accept the fact that they have to help cover the costs of any rescue operation,” Wolfgang Bosback of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) told the Financial Times last week.

Before the February kidnapping in Algeria, Germany’s Foreign Office had release a security alert for the country, one step down from a full travel warning. The alert warned potential tourists to the region that travelling in and through the Sahara should only be undertaken with experienced travel companies or after thorough preparation.

Germany’s “Sahara Club” called the accusations of frivolousness “completely absurd,” saying tourists who choose that destination are adventurers, but hardly frivolous.

“The desert is a completely normal vacation destination, even for families and children,” the group’s head, Gunter Frenzel, told reporters.

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