BERLIN, (Reuters) – Germany is increasingly concerned about the fate of two German hostages in Iraq, threatened with death if Germany does not close its Baghdad embassy within three days,Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Wednesday.
“The situation is developing seriously according to our assessment,” he told journalists after a cabinet meeting.
The kidnappers have set a 72-hour deadline for Germany to end its cooperation with Iraq and close its embassy there, according to a video shown on Al Jazeera television on Tuesday.
The tape of the two engineers showed them next to masked individuals who were pointing automatic rifles at them.
Steinmeier said he did not know when the 72-hour period would end. The video was dated Jan. 29.
“We are all disturbed and shocked by the pictures broadcast yesterday by Al Jazeera,” Steinmeier said, adding that he and his cabinet colleagues appealed to the kidnappers again to release the two men.
He declined to give details of the German government’s efforts to free them.
Al Jazeera said the hostage takers were from the Ansar al-Tawhid Wa-Sunna militant group and said the group had also demanded that all German companies leave Iraq.
The two engineers, identified in German media reports as Rene Braeunlich and Thomas Nitzschke, were abducted on Tuesday last week outside their workplace in the Iraqi industrial town of Baiji, 180 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad.
They appeared in a video on Friday urging their government to help secure their release, but the group holding them made no demands at that time.
This is the second crisis involving Germans kidnapped in Iraq since Steinmeier took office in November.
Susanne Osthoff, a 43-year-old archaeologist, was released in December after being held hostage for three weeks. German media reports have cited unnamed diplomats as saying Berlin paid $5 million for her release.
Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was a vocal opponent of the U.S.-led war on Iraq and refused to send German troops there, but Germany has helped train Iraqi police and security forces outside the country.