Still More Euros for Terror?

Posted by John Rosenthal

The recent upsurge of violence in Iraq will no doubt be taken by opponents of the Iraq War as confirmation of the “strength” of the so-called insurgency. In a sense, of course, it is. But the manifest “strength” of the insurgency – measured, in effect, in its ability to kill – need not necessarily correspond to its level of popular support. Given the unconventional methods employed by the “insurgents” – namely, terror – it is indeed more likely to reflect rather its level of financial support. And there is, regrettably, reason to believe that the “insurgents” – and, more precisely, the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – have lately received a substantial financial infusion: namely, from the German government.

When the German archaeologist Susanne Osthoff was taken hostage in Iraq in late November, the new German Chancellor Angela Merkel quickly declared that Germany would not allow itself “to be blackmailed”, thus appearing to suggest that Germany would not pay ransom for her release. For those hoping for the rapid defeat of the “insurgency”, the tone of her remarks represented a welcome contrast to that of her French counterparts. The latter, after each seizure of French hostages in Iraq over the last year and a half, have quickly let it be known they were in negotiations with the hostage-takers – euphemistically referred to as “political dialogue” by former French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier – even though there was evidently nothing to negotiate but a price.

Despite the difference in rhetoric, however, evidence emerging in the German media suggests that the outcome was the same: i.e. more euros for terror. The following from a report on Osthoff in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 4 January:

On her [Osthoff's] account, money was paid by Germany for her release. “The kidnappers had an offer from the Germans. I cannot tell you the exact amount,” said the former hostage, who was released shortly before Christmas, in an interview with the magazine Stern…. The first offer was, however, too low for the hostage-takers – “they had, after all, to save face and cover their costs”.

If a report from the German domestic wire service ddp is to be believed, however, the hostage-takers did much more than just “cover their costs”. The ddp report cites information from unnamed German intelligence sources. Here a resumé from Focus Online [link in German]:

As the ddp reports, the [German] federal government paid around $5 million to the hostage-takers for the release of Osthoff. An envoy of the BND [the German intelligence agency] is supposed to have brought the money, divided up into smaller bills, from Berlin to Iraq, as the hostage-takers demanded. According to what is being said in intelligence circles, the “bound  parcel” was of “considerable weight”.

Incidentally, the ddp report also claims that Susanne Osthoff worked as an informant for the BND in Iraq. In her Stern interview, Osthoff denies such reports, but admits to having received material support, supposedly on a personal basis, from a BND agent. According to Osthoff, the agent even sent a “whole playmobil set” as a Christmas present to her daughter in Germany, “since I didn’t have the money”. Inasmuch as the BND seems to have had excellent relations with the previous Baathist regime in Iraq, one might well wonder: what exactly is the BND doing in Iraq today?

(Note: For some context for this post, see my “Ransom and Terror in Iraq” on the old Trans-Int.)

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