BAGHDAD, Iraq – Two German engineers abducted this week in northern Iraq appealed to the German government to work for their release in a videotape broadcast Friday by an Arab TV station. It was the first sign of the pair since they were seized three days ago.
The tape showed the two engineers, identified by relatives as Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich, seated on the floor with at least four armed men standing behind them.
The timer shown in the corner of the tape, aired by Al-Jazeera television, indicated it was filmed Jan. 24 at 10:08 a.m., less than two hours after the men were abducted in the northern industrial city of Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.
At least five foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq this month — including two Kenyan communications engineers missing after a Jan. 18 ambush in Baghdad and American journalist Jill Carroll, who was seized Jan. 7 in the capital. Her translator was killed.
Carroll's kidnappers have threatened to kill the 28-year-old freelancer unless all Iraqi women are freed from custody.
The U.S. military released five Iraqi women detainees Thursday, and a top Iraqi police official, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamel, expressed hope the move might help win Carroll's freedom. Kamel also said intense efforts were underway in Baghdad to find Carroll.
Elsewhere, violence raged in Baghdad's tense southwestern suburbs as hundreds of police raided homes hunting for insurgents and clashed with more than 30 armed men for several hours. An Associated Press photographer saw the bodies of at least three people, all apparently civilians, who were shot by insurgents, witnesses said.
Also, the governor of the southern city of Basra threatened to stop dealing with British forces unless they release five Iraqi men detained Tuesday, including policemen suspected of links to local killings and kidnappings. Basra is the main base for the roughly 8,000 British forces in Iraq.
Gov. Mohammed al-Waeli called for a mass demonstration Sunday outside the British consulate to demand the release of the five men. Nine others have been freed.
"Basra's provincial council and all government offices will suspend all kinds of dealings with the (British) forces at all levels if they don't release the detainees," al-Waeli told the AP.
Several hours later, a market bombing killed one woman and wounded three others, police said. Witnesses claimed a man stepped out of a police vehicle and planted the bomb.
Another Iraqi woman was shot dead in western Baghdad's Baiyaa district by policemen firing into the air while trying to clear blocked traffic, police Lt. Aqil Fadil said.
A roadside bomb in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, missed a passing U.S. military patrol but killed two Iraqi civilians and wounded two others, Iraqi Army Capt. Ibrahim Abdullah said.
The German hostages were seen speaking on the tape, but Al-Jazeera did not broadcast any audio and did not report any demands beyond the hostages calling for German government intervention.
A handwritten black banner was shown on the tape reading: "Supporters of Tawhid and Sunnah Brigades," a previously unknown group. Tawhid is the Arabic word for monotheism and Sunnah refers to the teachings of the prophet Muhammad.
"The (German) government condemns this cruel kidnapping in the strongest possible terms," Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the video was aired. "We appeal urgently to the perpetrators to release our two compatriots without delay."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the video images as "distressing" and said his government would do everything it could to secure the hostages' release.
An Al-Jazeera editor, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the tape received by the station was only about 35 seconds long. He declined to say how it was obtained.
Germany's ZDF television said in a statement it also had the video, which it said showed the two hostages speaking in German and giving their names and that of their company, Leipzig-based Cryotec Anlagenbau AG.
Nitzschke and Braeunlich arrived in Iraq on Jan. 22 and only planned to remain "for a short time," the German Foreign Ministry said.
Cryotec has a commercial relationship with an Iraqi government-owned detergent company in the industrial town of Beiji, where Brazilian engineer Joao Jose Vasconcelos Jr. was kidnapped Jan. 19, 2005. His whereabouts remain unknown.
The first German kidnapped in Iraq was Susanne Osthoff, an aid worker and archaeologist who disappeared with her Iraqi driver in northern Iraq on Nov. 25. Her release was announced Dec. 18.
In Berlin, Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler told ARD television that no contact had been made with the kidnappers, but a ministry crisis team was "working constantly to save the two engineers."
Fierce fighting between police and insurgents in southwestern Baghdad areas such as Jihad and Saydiyah began early Friday. Policemen blaring their theme song "Where is the terrorist today?" from car speakers raided homes in several suburbs, arresting about 60 people.
Jihad was the scene of the fiercest street battles, with some insurgents brandishing rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Cars and shops were deserted in the areas as ordinary Iraqis fled for cover. An AP photographer saw at least one body lying in a shop. Another two men trying to escape the area were shot dead as they ran.
Witnesses said insurgents killed the men, apparently civilians, after they were seized and tried to flee.
With U.S. attack helicopters flying overhead, insurgent snipers positioned themselves on rooftops and masked gunmen roamed alleyways in the cordoned-off area.
In Baghdad's southern neighborhood of Dora, two gunmen entered a barber shop and killed a man waiting for a haircut, police said. Less than 30 minutes later in the same area, men firing from two speeding cars killed a driver for the Higher Education Ministry. It was unclear if both events were linked.
Police also found a man's bullet-riddled body slumped in a car in western Baghdad, said Dr. Muhannad Jawad of the Yarmouk hospital. Identity cards found among Hesham Ahmed Mahmoud's belongings indicated that he was an interpreter for the U.S. military.