Germany: Merkel presses for release of Iraq hostage

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leading German figures pressed Sunday for the release of an aid worker kidnapped in Iraq more than a week ago, while the government continued trying to establish contact with her captors.

"We appeal to the perpetrators to release the captives without delay," Merkel said in an appeal published by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. She said the government "is doing everything it can to save the lives of Susanne Osthoff and her companion," an Iraqi driver.

Osthoff, 43, and the driver were seized on Nov. 25. In a video made public on Tuesday but never broadcast in full, her kidnappers threatened to kill her unless Germany stops cooperating with the Iraqi government.

The magazines Der Spiegel and Focus reported at the weekend that their ultimatum expired in the early hours of Friday. The government refused to comment on those reports.

Opposition leaders also appealed for Osthoff's release in Bild am Sonntag, as did the head of Germany's Central Council of Muslims.

The kidnapping "contravenes the values of Islam, of good sense and of every civilization," Nadeem Elyas wrote. "Considering these values, the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages should be the least we expect."

The daily Tageszeitung quoted Elyas as saying he could envision offering to exchange himself for Osthoff. "For me, everything that could save her life comes into consideration," he told the paper's Monday edition.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Saturday that "regrettably, we have not succeeded in the first week in establishing, indirect or directly, contact with the kidnappers."

On Sunday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity that the government is continuing to work intensively on the case, but refused to elaborate.

In a video message last week, Osthoff's sister and mother pleaded with the kidnappers to consider that their captive was a Muslim convert with a young daughter as well as a friend of Iraq.

Her brother, Robert Osthoff, echoed their appeal in his own message, shown on German television Sunday.

"Please release my sister," he said. "She is a strong person, she helps people and she has an Arab heart."

The weekly Der Spiegel, which cited no sources, reported Saturday that the kidnappers used the name "Saraya al-Zilzal," or "Brigades of the Earthquake" _ leading officials, it said, to suspect that they may have Arab nationalist links. The government refused to comment.

Germany strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has refused to send troops there. However, it has been training Iraqi soldiers and police outside the country, reported AP. P.T.

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