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Hostage Killing Fuels Security Fears in Iraq

DW staff (sp)April 15, 2004

The killing of an Italian hostage by Iraqi militants Thursday and two German security workers last week has heightened security fears for Europeans and other foreigners working in Iraq.

Peace has become increasingly elusive in Iraq.Image: AP

The crumbling security conditions in Iraq took a turn for the worse on Thursday after officials in Rome confirmed the execution of an Italian hostage by Iraqi militants. It's the first known killing of the some 22 foreigners being held captive by insurgents in Iraq.

The victim, identified as Fabrizio Quattrocchi, was among a group of four Italian security guards seized by a previously unknown Iraqi group, the Green Battalion.

Anschlag auf italienischen Militärstützpunkt im Irak
Italian troops in IraqImage: AP

The group, which demanded a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, an apology by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the release of Iraqi religious clerics, released a video of the execution. Qatar-based Arabic television channel Al-Jazeera said it had the video, but that its contents were too graphic to broadcast.

Italy is the third-largest coalition partner in the occupation force, with 3,000 soldiers on the ground in Iraq. Italian Prime Minister Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who has ruled out pulling out Italian troops from Iraq, said, "They have cut short a life. They have not damaged our values and our commitment to peace."

French journalist freed

Another French television journalist, Alexandre Jordanov, 40, was released unharmed at a mosque on Wednesday after a four-day hostage ordeal.

Jordanov, who works for Capa Television in Paris, was kidnapped Sunday while videotaping a U.S.military convoy under attack. Jordanov said his abductors switched his location eight times, passing him from one armed group to another. "It was: 'We're going to cut your throat' to 'You're part of the Mossad," ' Jordanov said, referring to the Israeli secret service.

Opposition accuses Berlin of irresponsibility

The volatile situation in Iraq also dominated debate in Berlin on Thursday as the conservative opposition accused the German government of acting irresponsibly for using a dangerous roadway passage through Iraq's most dangerous territory to exchange security personnel. Last week, two Germans were killed as the diplomatic convoy they were traveling with was ambushed.

Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy head of the Christian Democrat Union's parliamentary group, told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper he wanted to know why a land route had been selected for the two slain Germans belonging to the elite GSG-9 unit, and whether there had been alternatives.

Another CDU member of parliament, Michael Fuchs told daily Bild that such an assignment was undoubtedly a job for the military, and added that it was a "suicide mission" to send two men on such a deployment.

Security convoy attacked by Iraqis

Vermisste Deutsche Tobias Ritrath, 25, and Thomas Haffenker, 38
The missing GermansImage: dpa

The two Germans, both part of the elite GSG-9 unit of Germany's Federal Border Guard assigned to protect the German embassy in Baghdad, went missing a week ago after their security convoy was attacked by Iraqi insurgents as it traveled through Iraq on its way from Amman, Jordan. The security convoy was accompanying a group of German diplomats and members of the German Federal Intelligence Agency.

The two Germans, Tobias Ritrath, 25, and Thomas Haffenker, 38, are believed to have been killed by the insurgents and were, according to eyewitness reports, buried by some Iraqis close to the place of attack.

No alternative to land route

But the German government on Thursday said there was no alternative to the land route to Jordan. Rainer Lingenthal, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the selected land route from the Jordanian capital of Amman to Baghdad had been used about 25 times in the past without incident and that the exchange had been conducted using reliable security information.

A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said using American air capabilities for German embassy personnel was out of question, because it was the exclusive prerogative of the Coalition Forces. However, she said the inability of German diplomats to travel by air was not viewed by Berlin as punishment for Germany's opposition to the war. Additionally, she said, German security personnel are also not allowed to carry weapons, she explained.

Lingenthal also announced that German Interior Minister Otto Schily had already initiated an investigation of the attacks and said the results would be presented to the German parliament's domestic affairs committee.