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Abducted German woman drawn to warmth of Iraqi people

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Berlin (dpa) - Susanne Osthoff, the German archaeologist-turned- aid worker, was well aware of the dangers of living in Iraq long before her abduction.

The 43-year-old first got to know Iraq when she joined a dig in 1984, and before that she had lived in Yemen for years.

She is a fluent Arabic speaker, a convert to Islam and is married to a man of Jordanian origin, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter.

As recently as October, Osthoff told a German newspaper that she had received threats from insurgents around Abu Mussab al-Zarkawi during the past summer.

Zarkawi, who sees himself as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is one of the most dangerous of the terrorist leaders and has been held responsible for a string of brutal murders.

At the time Osthoff was active in Mosul in the Kurdish north, before being taken to the Green Zone in Baghdad by U.S. troops for her own safety.

According to the report, her aim at the time was to establish a German cultural centre in the northern city of Arbil, and she was in contact with the German embassy and with the Kurdish regional government.

Osthoff's love for her adopted country is clear from the interviews she gave in the past. She described Iraq as the "cradle of culture and civilization".

Her key interests had long turned from archaeology to helping the Iraqi people, and her work in this regard began under the sanctions imposed against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Osthoff had become fascinated with Iraq at an early age, later recalling hearing about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon during religious instruction classes at school in her native Bavaria.

At university she studied the archeology of the Middle East.

Days after the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, she drove from Amman in Jordan to Baghdad transporting medical aid. Providing medical equipment and medicines appears to have been her main work in recent years.

Constantly in contact with German journalists in Iraq, she regularly expressed her admiration for the warmth of the Iraqi people.

Last year she received a prize for her public spiritedness from the highly regarded Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, which is based in Bavaria.

"She loves the people, the culture, the country and she is really fanatical in this," her mother, who has not seen her daughter for five years, said after news of the abduction was broadcast in Germany.

Pointing to the circumstances under which many Iraqis live, the mother added: "There was nothing else for her to do but to help."

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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