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Iraqi Embassy Seige in Berlin Ends Peacefully - 2002-08-20

German police stormed the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin, Tuesday evening, ending a takeover by opponents of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The police say the hostage takers were armed with lethal weapons, but there seems to have been no clear motive for the attack, other than publicity.

Before they burst into the Iraqi embassy in Berlin Tuesday, in what they described as a "blood-free" operation, Berlin police in bullet-proof vests waited nervously outside building for more than three hours. They could do nothing without the go-ahead from Baghdad, since the embassy is considered Iraqi soil. Inside, what was then an unknown number of Iraqi dissidents held the embassy's top diplomat and his assistant hostage.

Passers-by had spoken of hearing gunshots, as the five attackers forced their way in to the building in the early hours of Tuesday afternoon. But the hostage-takers themselves, in a statement sent by fax, described their takeover as a "peaceful" action, to draw attention to the Iraqi people's desire for freedom.

Although the men holed up inside the building did eventually make contact with the police, they made no demands. They identified themselves as members of a previously unknown group: the "Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany" but left outsiders guessing both as to their motives and their strength.

The main Iraqi opposition group in exile, the London-based Iraqi National Congress said it has no ties with the Berlin group. In Washington, officials said the United States was not aware of the group and condemned its attack on the embassy.

In a telephone interview with the Arab satellite broadcaster, Al Jazeera, a person identifying himself as one of the attackers claimed they were not occupying an embassy, but liberating a piece of Iraqi soil. He also said they were taking military action against the Iraqi regime.

Police say the men they arrested inside the embassy were armed with one eight millimeter pistol with live ammunition, two tear gas guns, an electric stun-gun and an ax, which had been used to break down doors and erect barricades within the building.

A police spokesman says it is assumed the shots that were heard came from a tear gas gun. One of two hostages who had been released earlier, shortly after the siege started, had red, irritated eyes.

The police gave no other information about the attackers except to say they were approximately 35 years old. But local media speculated the attack was staged to draw attention to the opposition to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.