Iraqi Embassy occupation ends without shooting after five hours

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

BERLIN -- German police stormed the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin Tuesday and, without firing a shot, ended the five-hour occupation of the mission by a previously unknown Iraqi opposition group.

The group had taken Iraqi diplomats hostage to draw attention to their demand for an end to the rule of Saddam Hussein, authorities said.

The dissident group, calling itself the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany, used some kind of chemical, possibly mace or pepper spray, to force its way into the building at 2:26 p.m. local time.

In a faxed statement to the Reuters news agency, the group said its action was a "first step against the terrorist regime of Saddam Hussein and his killers," but added that the occupation was intended to be "peaceful and temporary."

About 200 police quickly cordoned off the embassy, but police held back from a rescue attempt while the German government consulted with the authorities in Baghdad, officials said.

Around 7:40 p.m., after receiving a green light from Baghdad, police burst into the embassy and quickly detained five men who had holed up on the third floor with the hostages, including the highest ranking Iraqi diplomat in Germany, First Secretary Shamil Mohammed. Two people were slightly injured, police said.

The hostage takers did not resist arrest, said police spokeswoman Christine Rother.

It was unclear Tuesday exactly how many people had been held hostage.

No demands

The group had made no demands, but conducted a series of phone interviews with the media during the afternoon in which they described their aims and said they were sitting peacefully with the embassy employees.

But the seizure was condemned by other Iraqi opposition groups.

"We confine our war of liberation to Iraq proper," said a spokesman in London for the Iraqi National Congress, which includes at least six main exile factions of the Iraqi opposition. "We are trying to get more information on these people. We do not condone such violence."

New group

Other Iraqi opposition figures said the group was newly formed and only has about 20 members, including former officers of the Iraqi army now living in Germany.

In its statement to Reuters, the group who seized the embassy said the Germans understood their concerns because of living under Adolf Hitler's regime.

Officials in Baghdad said the seizure was a "terrorist act" and suggested it was masterminded by a foreign government.

The White House condemned the Iraqi dissidents. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters that the United States had no prior knowledge of the dissidents.

"Actions like this takeover are unacceptable," he said in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush is staying at his ranch. "They undermine legitimate efforts by Iraqis both inside and outside Iraq to bring regime change to Iraq."

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