Germany welcomes release of hostage in Iraq

Germany welcomed the release of the country's first hostage in Iraq and media on Monday praised the government's handling of the situation, but several questions about the three-week kidnapping and release remained unanswered. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced Sunday that Susanne Osthoff, a 43-year-old aid worker and archaeologist, had been released unharmed and was safely in the care of the German Embassy in Baghdad. He said the kidnappers also had promised to release her Iraqi driver, with whom she disappeared Nov. 25.

Germany's ZDF television reported Monday, citing unidentified security sources, that the driver was now believed to have been freed. No confirmation was immediately available.

Steinmeier refused immediate comment on the circumstances of Osthoff's release and did not say whether she would return to Germany. The Foreign Ministry did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.

The kidnapping opened up the first crisis for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, days after it took office Nov. 22. The mass-circulation Bild daily, whose front page headline proclaimed "German hostage free!" said the release was "the best news of Christmas week."

In an editorial, it said Merkel's government "brilliantly mastered" the challenge. The chancellor and Steinmeier "quietly and effectively pulled all possible strings to save Susanne Osthoff, with success," it added.

Days after their disappearance, Osthoff and her driver were shown in a videotape blindfolded and sitting on a floor, with militants, one armed with a rocket-propelled grenade, standing beside them. The captors threatened to kill the hostages unless Germany stopped dealing with the Iraqi government, reports the AP. I.L.

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