Iraqi Dissidents Occupy Embassy
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BERLIN (AP) _ Armed men took Iraq’s acting ambassador and others in his staff hostage Tuesday, and a new Iraqi dissident group said it seized the embassy to press for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Two staff members were injured, apparently by pepper spray used by the hostage takers, police spokesman Joerg Nittmann said. He estimated that 10 people, both hostage takers and captives, were inside the building.
Dozens of police, some in bulletproof vests, sealed off the leafy suburban street around the embassy in the suburb of Zehlendorf. It was not known how the hostage takers got past German police who guard the site from posts outside. Police said they went to the scene after receiving an emergency call from the embassy.
The embassy seizure came at a time when Germany is expressing strong opposition to any U.S. military action to remove Saddam, who is accused of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Police said in a statement that the men ``threatened several people with weapons,″ but did not say what the weapons were. A neighbor, Manfred Charnow, said he heard two volleys of shots fired at the embassy. Police said they could not confirm any shots and that no one was hurt by gunfire.
Several hostages were taken inside the embassy, and the acting ambassador was in the building at the time, Nittmann told reporters at the scene. A charge d’affaires is currently the acting ambassador at the mission, which opened July 17 after moving from Bonn, the former West German capital.
A group calling itself the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany claimed responsibility for the embassy takeover in a statement sent to two news agencies.
``We are taking over the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin and thereby take the first step toward the liberation of our beloved fatherland,″ the group said.
``Our action is peaceful and limited in time,″ it said. ``Our path is the liberation of Baghdad.″
In London, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress _ a leading umbrella group for opponents of Saddam _ said his group had no involvement with the embassy incident.
He said the Iraqi Democratic Opposition of Germany was a new group, but he was not familiar with its members. He said the Iraqi opposition had never resorted to violence outside Iraq in the past.
At the United Nations, Mohammad Al-Douri, Iraq’s U.N. ambassador, said a foreign government may be behind the occupation of the embassy.
``This is the first time we have heard about this (group’s) name. Certainly they have been pushed by somebody else, some government perhaps. We don’t know. But it seems like that,″ Al-Douri told reporters.
He did not identify any government as being responsible for the hostage-taking.
``If they want to quote, unquote liberate Iraq, they have to go to Iraq not Berlin,″ Al-Douri said. He said Germany must ``protect our people and I think they are doing that.″
In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said ``we are not aware of the group″ and added that he could provide no further information on it.
As the United States debates whether to launch military action against Baghdad, Germany has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the plan among U.S. allies _ leading to a rare overt spat with Washington.
Last week, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder ruled out Germany sending troops for an ``adventure″ in Iraq that he said could wreck the international anti-terror coalition and spark turmoil across the Middle East.
In comments published Tuesday, the U.S. Ambassador Daniel Coats criticized Schroeder for the comments. He said he told Shroeder’s aides during a meeting at the Berlin chancellory that the German leader’s stand was ``not appropriate.″
The Bush administration is ``disappointed,″ Coats told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.