Friday, August 06, 2004
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder hailed their release as a victory against international terrorism.
But a row has erupted in Germany over reports that a ransom was paid....
Germany's ZDF television said a Malian negotiator had given a ransom to the hostage-takers, but that the money did not come from the German Government.
The BBC's Ray Furlong in Berlin says most German newspapers take it for granted that Germany paid a ransom - even though Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said on Monday it was not Germany's policy.
The speculation is that Mali has put forward the money, and that Germany will then provide it with foreign aid.
Now Paris Match reports that the jihadists themselves say that Germany payed the money.
Amari Saifi, a leader of the Algerian Islamic militant Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) that is thought to have ties to al Qaeda, told Paris Match magazine on Thursday that his group had received ransom payments to release the 32 mainly German hostages they had kidnapped last year.
Although it has long been suspected that Germany paid around €5 million ($6 million) to have the hostages freed, there had been no confirmation of any payment. In Berlin, the foreign ministry refused comment. "The German government's fundamental position refusing to pay out ransom is well known," a spokesman told news agency AFP.
Questioned about the exact sum paid, Saifi told Paris Match: "We made a promise to the German government not to divulge the amount." He added that "most was spent buying supplies for our brothers in Algeria. We also bought weapons and ammunition."
That's quite a charge, if true, and it probably is. Here is a contemporaneous account in the German press, catching the government warning the hostages against retaining profits earned from telling their story. Apparently the costs of recovering the hostages were "enormous," and Berlin wanted to recover as much money as possible.
The Germans paid off terrorists, but tried to keep that fact a secret. In so doing they paid jihadists money to purchase weapons and ammunition. They also taught the jihadists that the taking of hostages would be an effective strategy against wealthy Western democracies. This story is astonishing, and there has been virtually no coverage of it in the American press. Why? Because it might reinforce the impression many of us have that certain erstwhile allies cannot be trusted.
John Kerry wants us to "respect our allies." Why, other than for purely expedient reasons -- we want their money -- should we respect a country that arms our enemy to purchase the freedom of people who foolishly vacation in southern Algeria?