German Ex-Diplomat Kidnapped in Yemen

By Craig Whitlock and Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 29, 2005

BERLIN, Dec. 28 -- A former German ambassador to Washington and four members of his family were reported missing and apparently kidnapped Wednesday while vacationing in a remote part of Yemen. It was the latest in a string of tourist abductions in the Arabian desert.

Juergen Chrobog, ambassador from 1995 to 2001, his wife and three adult sons were declared missing by the German Foreign Ministry. In Yemen, government officials said the family had been taken hostage by tribesmen who regularly seize Western tourists as bargaining chips in dealings with the government, according to news service reports from Sanaa, the capital.

Chrobog, 65, served as Germany's deputy foreign minister until last month, when a new government came to power. In 2003, he played an instrumental role in winning the release of 14 European hostages -- nine of them Germans -- who had been kidnapped in the Sahara and held for six months by Islamic radicals.

As chief negotiator during that episode, Chrobog shuttled between Berlin and Africa. According to the magazine Der Spiegel and other German media, he personally delivered a cash ransom worth several million dollars to intermediaries in Bamako, Mali, in exchange for the hostages' safe return.

Two Austrians and two Swiss were abducted in Yemen in the past two months. All were released unharmed a few days later.

The German Foreign Ministry had posted a travel advisory for Yemen, warning visitors that they could be abducted by ransom-seeking tribesmen and noting a general risk of terrorist attacks against Western interests in the country.

Yemeni officials said Chrobog and his family arrived in the country on Saturday at the invitation of the former Yemeni ambassador to Germany. Chrobog and his Egyptian-born wife, Magda, have an avid interest in archaeology.

The Reuters news agency reported from Yemen that the group was seized during a trip to the eastern province of Shabwah from the port city of Aden. "They are safe," one of the kidnappers, from the Abdullah tribe, told Reuters by telephone. "But if force is used to free them, the hostages' lives will be put in danger."

He said he hoped the kidnapping would put pressure on the government of Yemen to free five of his fellow tribesmen who are in jail on criminal charges, including murder.

In Berlin, the German government activated a task force to coordinate handling of the case, said Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig, a spokeswoman for the German Embassy in Washington. The German government recently disbanded a similar task force dealing with a hostage crisis in Iraq. Susanne Osthoff, a German archaeologist and activist, was released Dec. 18, three weeks after being abducted in the northern part of the country by an unknown group.

The Osthoff case and that of the 14 tourists kidnapped in the Sahara prompted grumbling from some German lawmakers that adventurous Germans seized in risky regions should be held financially responsible for their rescues.

Chrobog did not share that view. "I think we should just be happy that the situation had ended like this," he said on Aug. 20, 2003, a day after the Sahara travelers were released. "It could have been a lot worse."

Boustany reported from Beirut.

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