BERLIN (Reuters) -Kidnappers in Iraq have threatened to kill a German woman and her driver unless Berlin stops cooperating with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, German state television ARD reported on Tuesday.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman traveling with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Washington the woman had been missing since Friday and that a crisis unit had been set up to secure her safety.
"The German government is working on getting the hostage out of danger," spokesman Martin Jaeger said. "Our priority is to protect the life and integrity of the victim."
New German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to make a statement on the kidnapping at 11:00 a.m. (1000 GMT).
The kidnappers made their threat in a videotape handed to ARD in Baghdad, the television said.
Extracts from the tape on ARD”s Web site showed two people sitting on the ground with their eyes covered by white material. They were surrounded by three masked, armed figures, one of whom appeared to be reading from a piece of paper.
Germany”s N24 news television reported that the German hostage was Susanne Osthoff, an archaeologist. According to ARD, Osthoff has been living in Iraq for years and speaks fluent Arabic.
"We will see how it goes. You can only stay hopeful and optimistic and keep your fingers crossed," the woman”s mother told N24.
More than 200 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Fifty-two foreign hostages are known to have been executed by their captors — 41 in 2004 and 11 in 2005.
Diplomats are searching for information on the fate of four American, British and Canadian aid workers reported kidnapped in Baghdad. It was unclear who had seized them or why.
Merkel wants to improve relations with the United States and said earlier this month Berlin would carry on with the previous government”s policy of helping to train Iraqi forces outside Iraq. She has ruled out sending German troops to Iraq.
Berlin”s postwar support for Iraq has included humanitarian and other aid. Germany is also training Iraqi police, security and administrative officials outside the country.
Germany and the United States fell out in the run-up to the Iraq war when former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder opposed the U.S.-led invasion.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried has said Washington would not ask Germany to send troops to Iraq but would like Berlin to help out more in stabilizing the country.