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Police Concerned for Residents Around Iraqi Embassy

Aired August 20, 2002 - 10:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Individuals claiming to be members of an Iraqi opposition group have occupied the Iraqi embassy, and there are unconfirmed reports of hostages being taken there. But in a statement, the group calls it a peaceful action to call for the ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
CNN's Gaven Morris is standing by on the scene as he has been since its inception. He joins us by phone from Berlin -- Gaven.

GAVEN MORRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, let me update you straight away with the latest from the police here. They have just given a statement. What they have told us is that there are hostages inside, they are treating this as a very serious event. There are maybe less than ten, but they are not quite sure yet, hostages, including the ambassador inside the embassy. Now, what has happened here is an unknown number of people entered the embassy about an hour and a half ago, and they injured two people on the way in.

Now, the important thing is, it sounds like these injuries are quite light. They -- the police say they don't know whether these people inside have weapons, but local residents here are reporting hearing shots or small explosions, that sort of thing. So the important thing to note about those injuries is they are not gunshot wounds. So that is important.

What we do know is that the police now have called in special forces. They have called in police psychologists, they have called in ambulances, there is even an armored personnel carrier here. They are saying this is a very serious incident. They are, in fact, using the word dangerous and in fact, what they are planning on doing is getting us of the area as soon as we can. Already, we are quite sealed off from the embassy itself, we are some distance away, and as I say, many, many vehicles from the emergency services.

Let me tell you about this group. The group is called the Democratic Iraqi Opposition for Germany. Now, the police know nothing of them. As you mentioned before, neither do the Iraq National Congress, who are the quasi-official sort of opposition. So this is a very obscure group. Now what they have done, is they have launched -- they have said that they are launching a peaceful and temporary protest on the embassy. Their aim is for the Iraqi people -- this is a statement, I'll quote from -- "The Iraqi people and their legitimate leadership declare the liberation of Iraqi soil begins today." They say this is the first step for the people of Iraq to topple the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, and they are demanding an end to his rule. That's what they have said in the statement, and that is what we know so far about them, but very obscure group. The police don't know who they are. The Iraqi National Congress doesn't know who they are, and at the moment, we are just waiting to hear where this goes next -- Leon.

HARRIS: Gaven, did this group say anything about exactly why they decided to time this action today? Did they receive any encouragement from any particular government or anything?

MORRIS: Absolutely not. There is no sense to this date for any particular reason. It may just be a random date, or they may have reasons all their own. What I can tell you is the context of this is that the opposition here in Germany has been mounting quite steadily to any sort of German involvement in a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, or that sort of thing. So maybe there is a sense of frustration among this group or among some Iraqi people here that Germany will not get involved in toppling Saddam Hussein. Gerhardt Schroeder called it -- and I quote -- "a venture that Germany would not be a part of," when he was referring to any proposed campaign in Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.

So, as for the timing, there is no particular logic to it, but as to the reasoning, that's just some of the context behind it -- Leon.

HARRIS: Gaven, can you give us any information about exactly how this embassy was overrun? They are still unclear about whether or not they have weapons or what kind of weapons they have. Is there any idea exactly how they managed to get their way inside that embassy and overrun security?

MORRIS: Well, I will speculate slightly here, based on the information that the police have told us, but what they are saying is that these two people who were injured were injured slightly. They are not gunshot wounds, so they weren't shot or anything like that. What appears to have happened or what may have happened is that a scuffle or some sort of physical confrontation has happened at the entrance to this embassy. Now, the embassy -- still being built up in terms of any security on top of what it would normally have. So the speculation here by police is that maybe these were security guards that were accosted physically, and that has -- been what has happened, that essentially let this group of people get inside. And as I say, they have taken less than ten people hostage, but most importantly, very importantly, including the ambassador -- Leon.

HARRIS: Very interesting. Gaven, one final question. This with the minds towards those that may be around this embassy if the police action there does have to heat up in the coming hours, is this in a residential area that we are talking about, this embassy, or is it in a downtown business zone or what?

MORRIS: It is a residential area, it is a very leafy sort of Western suburb of Berlin. A lot of embassies around here, a lot of diplomatic missions, but there are residents mingled in among them, and as I say, a few of the early reports on this came from residents themselves, including that one that some shots had been heard by residents.

So it is a very sort of suburban area, and I think that is one of the key concerns. I think that's why there is so much security here, probably 40 or 50 police trucks here at the moment. All sorts of police officers. As I say, even sort of an armored personnel-type machine is here as well.

So that's -- the prime concern at the moment is one for the people inside the embassy, but secondly for the media here, for the residents in this area, and so police are working very hard to get that under control -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right. Very good. Understood. Gaven Morris reporting for us from Berlin, Germany this morning, this afternoon there.




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