Iraq claims embassy gunmen were either U.S. or Israeli agents

Thursday, August 22, 2002

BERLIN -- Recounting the five hours he was held hostage by gunmen, Iraq's acting ambassador said Wednesday that he is convinced his captors were either Israeli or American agents whose goal was to raise German support for a U.S. attack on Baghdad.

Given the way the five men handily disabled embassy security systems and rewired a gate to enter the grounds, Shamil Mohammed said they could not have been ordinary Iraqi dissidents as they claimed.

"It was a good and well planned action and these people were not politically motivated, they are mercenaries, they are gangsters," Mohammed told The Associated Press. "I think you can ask the people in Washington or London or Tel Aviv about it -- it was either CIA or Mossad."

A previously unknown Iraqi dissident group calling itself the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany said its members were behind the embassy seizure Tuesday and called for the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. German commandos stormed the building, detaining the five men and freeing the hostages.

Other Iraqi opposition groups said the group was new and that they had no connection to it. During the hostage-taking, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration had no knowledge of -- or contacts with -- the group and called such attempts to overthrow Saddam "unacceptable."

Mohammed was in his first-floor office Tuesday when he heard gunshots from outside and saw men run past his wife and two young sons, who had been playing on the neatly manicured embassy grounds. He and his designated successor, Muaead Hussain, rushed to the front door but were unable to stop the assailants from forcing their way in with axes and handguns.

Berlin judicial spokeswoman Ariane Faust said the five men, aged 32 to 43, had all applied for asylum in Germany and were believed to be Iraqis who were living outside of Berlin.

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