Iraqi forces free German woman kidnapped in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AFP) – A German woman kidnapped in Baghdad last week was freed overnight and handed over to her embassy, officials from the two countries said on Friday.

“Security forces have freed activist Hella Mewis,” Iraq’s military spokesman Yahya Rasool said in a statement.

Iraq’s interior ministry said a joint task force, including the elite Falcons intelligence forces and federal police and anti-crime units, carried out the operation in east Baghdad.

Interior Minister Othman al-Ghanemi handed Mewis over to the German embassy in Baghdad, the ministry said.

A video released by the ministry showed Iraqi officials and German diplomats together with a tired-looking Mewis.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he was “relieved” that Mewis was freed, confirmed she was at the embassy in Baghdad and thanked Iraq’s government.

An Iraqi man rides his motorbike past the premises of the Iraqi art collective Tarkib in Baghdad’s Karrada neighbourhood one day after a German citizen, who ran arts programmes at the centre supporting young artists, was kidnapped metres away from her office in the Iraqi capital. PHOTO: AFP

Mewis has worked in the Iraqi capital since 2013 and was one of the few westerners who lived outside the high-security Green Zone, where most diplomatic missions are located.

She ran arts programmes at Iraqi collective Beit Tarkib and was close to many young photographers and painters.

Mewis was leaving her office in central Baghdad on Monday evening when unidentified assailants in two cars, including a white pickup truck typically used by Iraqi security forces, abducted her.

Police officers at the local station witnessed the abduction but did not intervene, the source added.

Dhikra Sarsam, a friend of Mewis, said she had been in contact with her since her release.

“She told me that she was doing well and had not been badly treated” in custody, Sarsam told AFP.

“She will go very soon to Germany.”

The identity of her abductors and the reason for her kidnapping were still being investigated, as some details of her release emerged.

Mewis was found in an abandoned building, the interior ministry said.

A security source told AFP she was freed from a location in Sadr City, a densely populated district in east Baghdad where security forces have tried in vain for years to impose law and order.

“Hours after she was kidnapped, security forces detained a man who incriminated several people who (allegedly) belong to a faction close to the Hashed al-Shaabi,” the source said.