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German Is Latest Iraq Kidnapping Victim

November 29, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Photos broadcast Tuesday showed a blindfolded German woman being led away by armed captors in the latest kidnapping of a Westerner in Iraq. Six Iranian pilgrims, meanwhile, were abducted by gunmen north of Baghdad.

Separately, the aid group Christian Peacemaker Teams confirmed that four people from the group had been taken hostage Saturday and that Norman Kember, a 74-year-old Briton, was among them. The U.S. Embassy has confirmed an American is missing in Iraq _ presumably one of the aid workers.

Also Tuesday, two U.S. soldiers assigned to Task Force Baghdad were killed when their patrol was hit by a roadside bomb north of the capital, the U.S. command said.

A suicide car bomber killed eight Iraqi soldiers and wounding five more when he drove into an army patrol Tuesday in Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of Baghdad, police Lt. Ali Hussein said. A U.S. Army medical helicopter helped evacuate the wounded, he added.

Insurgents fired six mortars at Camp Falcon, a U.S. base on the southern edge of Baghdad, police and witnesses said, but there were no immediate reports of casualties. U.S. troops and Iraqi police shut down the Baghdad’s main highway heading south to try to capture those responsible, police Capt. Taleb Thamer said.

A Sunni Kurd cleric from the northern city of Kirkuk was kidnapped, tortured and killed during a recent visit to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, a Sunni religious official said Tuesday.

Sheik Bashir Hadi Fakhreddine, the imam of Bilal al-Habashi mosque in Kirkuk, was kidnapped 10 days ago in eastern Baghdad along with his friend Seif Abdullah, according to Sheik Azad Khorsheed of the Sunni Endowment in Kirkuk.

Iraq was rocked by a wave of foreigner kidnappings and beheadings in 2004 and early 2005, but they have dropped off in recent months as many Western groups have left and security precautions for those who remain have tightened. Insurgents, including al-Qaida in Iraq, seized more than 225 people, killing at least 38 _ including three Americans.

The pictures of Susanne Osthoff were taken from a video in which her captors demanded that Germany stop any dealings with Iraq’s government, according to Germany’s ARD television. Germany has ruled out sending troops to Iraq and opposed the U.S.-led war.

Osthoff and her driver have been missing since Friday and ``according to current information, we have to assume it is a kidnapping,″ German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin.

Osthoff, 43, is a fluent Arab speaker and a trained archaeologist who has worked since 1998 for the Munich-based management consulting firm FaktorM, which said on its Web site that she has ``organized and supported the distribution of aid goods in Iraq since 1991.″ She was in Iraq working to help German organizations distribute medicine and medical supplies.

``One can only hope and keep their fingers crossed and remain optimistic,″ her mother, Ingrid Hala, told Germany N24 news station.

Hala said she had not heard from her daughter for about five years, and her uncle, Peter Osthoff, said his niece had broken almost all ties with her family, including a daughter who will be 12 in December.

``She has almost no contact with any relatives,″ he told The Associated Press.

Germany’s Central Council of Muslims called for Osthoff’s immediate release.

Christian Peacemaker Teams said it has had representatives in Iraq since October 2002, working with U.S. and Iraqi detainees and training others in nonviolent intervention and human rights documentation. Kember and another person were part of a visiting delegation, while two of the group’s staff based in Iraq also were taken, the statement said.

The group said it would not identify the other three people taken hostage. It stressed that it worked on behalf of Iraqi civilians.

``The team’s work has focused on documenting and focusing public attention on detainee abuses, connecting citizens of Iraq to local and international human rights organizations, and accompanying Iraqi civilians as they interact with multinational military personnel and Iraq’s government officials,″ the group said.

The statement said those taken hostage knew the risks when they went to Iraq.

The organization said it ``does not advocate the use of violent force to save our lives should we be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a conflict situation.″

On Monday, Deputy Interior Minister Hussein Kamal said authorities had no leads. No group has claimed responsibility and details of the apparent kidnapping were unclear.

On Sunday, a Canadian official said two Canadians were in the group. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth Colton said only that an American had been reported missing, and the person’s name and organization were being withheld.

Britain has said Kember, a retired professor, vanished in Iraq.

Kember is a longtime peace activist who once fretted publicly that he was taking the easy way out by protesting in safety at home while British soldiers risked their lives in Iraq.

In Barcelona, Spain, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he had contacted Iraqi Foreign Minister Hohshyar Zebari about Kember’s abduction, and that Zebari ``pledged every assistance from the Iraqi government.″

The Iranian pilgrims were abducted Tuesday morning near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, police Maj. Falah Mohammedawi said, but it was not clear if the six were going to or coming from Samarra, a central city that houses a shrine to two Shiite saints.

Iraq and Iran, predominantly Shiite countries, reached an agreement earlier this year on pilgrim visits, which excludes trips to Shiite shrines in Baghdad and Samarra because of the dangerous security situation. The pilgrims appear to have been violating that agreement.

Insurgents have kidnapped aid workers, journalists and contractors in an attempt to drive foreigners out of the country or to win large ransoms.

Since May, abductions have fallen off considerably, mainly because many Western groups left Iraq and security precautions for those remaining have been tightened, with foreigners staying in barricaded compounds and moving only in heavily guarded convoys.

The last American to be kidnapped was Jeffrey Ake, a contract worker from LaPorte, Ind., who was abducted April 11. He was seen in a video aired days afterward, held with a gun to his head, but there has been no word on his fate.

___

Associated Press reporter David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

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