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German Special Forces Outside Iraqi Embassy

Aired August 20, 2002 - 10:28   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: As promised before the break, you are looking now at first pictures we're getting out of Berlin, Germany, this from the scene of an apparent hostage situation at the Iraqi embassy. As we heard from our reporter Gaven Morris, who is not far from the scene, this is in something of a residential neighborhood there in Berlin, and the word that we've gotten is that apparently security there was overrun by some members of the Iraqi opposition who happened to be in Germany, and they basically overran security and then had taken over the embassy. These reports that there may be up to 10 hostages taken inside.
As a matter of fact, we have our Gaven Morris right now back on the line with us as we have these pictures. Gaven, you've -- talk to us as while show these pictures we are getting in and show us the scene with the police cars inside of the embassy grounds.

Let me run you through the sequence of events as we understand them now, Leon. What we understand is that 14:26 local time. That's about two hours ago here, they received a call from the -- people inside the embassy, saying that some people had entered the embassy and had occupied it. Now, about the same time, reports came in from some locals in the area, one of whom we spoke to, saying they heard some shots fired.

Now the resident we spoke to said four shots fired shots, followed by another three, and the police say they've heard similar reports from other residents in the area.

Now, what then happened, is that the ambassador was taken hostage and possibly four, six, less than 10 is what we know for sure, but the police say even that is a little fuzzy at the moment, and they say they're is no word on these occupants weapons. Two people were injured during the occupations, but we understand there are more physical-ish injuries may be involved in some sort of scuffle on the way in. They are not gunshot wounds, so that at least is something.

This group is calling itself the Democratic Iraqi Opposition for Germany. Now we should be careful in how much legitimacy we give them at the moment, because as an official opposition groups, because nobody really has eve heard of them before, and the Iraqi National Congress, who is kind of recognized as the opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime , say that they don't really know this group, they are obscure to them, and that they are condemning this occupation of the embassy.

But what this group, the Democratic Iraqi Opposition for Germany is saying, is that in a statement they released, they are saying that the Iraqi people and their legitimate leadership declare the liberation of Iraqi soil begins today. What they are saying is this is the first step to overturning the regime of Saddam Hussein, and that they are not suggesting yet that this is going to continue, that it's going to broaden, but they are saying this is the first step in their campaign to have the regime ended.

So that is where we are at the moment. But I can tell you that just in the last couple of minutes, this is a situation that the police are described as dangerous. And we have seen the special forces, the German police special forces turn up and get clad in their armored vests, and they got helmets, machine guns, submachine guns, and they have gone towards the embassy.

So we do not know if this is a sign of the developing, or if they are getting prepped for any sort of eventuality, but the police are saying that it is dangerous, and they want people to move away from the area we are in the moment, and it -- at the moment, it's a minute- to-minute proposition -- Leon.

HARRIS: Gaven, we are just now getting in these pictures from one of the news services there, and I am not sure if you have a monitor anywhere nearby that you can actually to check out, but as you mention, this possibility of people being moved out of the area. We are looking right now at a scene that seems to be a little bit surreal. We see police vehicle in the street, we also men out there on the sidewalk, some of them with what appears to be armored vests on, and yet there still are pedestrians strolling up and down that same sidewalk. In fact, just a second ago, we saw a small boy walking down the road with a teddy bear in his arms.

MORRIS: You're right, it is rather a surreal scene. There are probably 40 police vehicles here. As you say, a lot of the police people clad in bulletproof vests. There is also an armored personnel type of vehicle here, or certainly an armored vehicle. And I've got to tell you, we are only probably 30 -- 40 to 50 meters, from where the police are gathering outside of the embassy. So they sealed off a little part of the street, but we are only a few meters away, but residents are mingling with the media, with the police.

So perhaps on the one hand, the actions of the police do not suggest that they are expecting any sort of firefight or anything on that level, but at the same time, they keep calling it a dangerous situation. So I have a feeling before too long, they will really try to get people out of this street and move them back to another piece of the suburban area to the west of Berlin -- Leon.

HARRIS: Yes, and it's not at all clear that their words are matching what we're seeing here in these pictures. I'm getting a sense now that this does not really seem to be that tense of a situation. They are not moving that quickly. As we said, we still see civilians there, and what it appears to be just people from the neighborhood gathering around.

Gaven, have you heard or seen any sort of reaction at all from the German government in any of the media outlets there so far? MORRIS: No, and I mean I think the German government here has to change tracks, if you like. They were very focused on what of course is going on in this country as well, which is the terrible flight emergency throughout the nation, and the government has been pretty much a government focused on that emergency. So I'm sure what will be happening there now is the -- the officials that need to be involved in this are very quickly changing stream to get their head around this -- Leon.

HARRIS: Any relationship perhaps between this event and the German election that we know, or actually not far off from there?

MORRIS: Well, that's the speculation, why now, and why they this place at this time. Is Berlin significant? Is the timing significant? These are the questions we are hoping to be able to answer in a little while?

But what we can say is that this is quite an election issue. An Gerhard Schroeder, the chancellor here, who is running for re- election, very early in his campaign, pretty much at the start of his campaign, made a huge point of saying that Germany did not want to get involved in any proposed action against the regime of Saddam Hussein, and that he called it an adventure, and that obviously upset the U.S. government at the time, and they protested it to the chancellor, but that has the support of the vast majority of Germans. A poll out recently showed that 87 percent of people are against any sort of German involvement in Iraqi action. That could be a contest behind this.

Pure speculation, maybe a group is frustrated at the sort of lack of interest in overturning Saddam Hussein's regime, and that is why they've chose Berlin. That's speculation, but hopefully, when this group speaks, when they provide more information of what they are doing inside and why they are doing it. We will learn more, Leon.

HARRIS: All right. Just for the folks who are watching right now, and listening to Gaven, just in case you thought there may have been a lip-synching problem going on there moments ago, the pictures that you are seeing right now, these are of a German -- what appears to be German police officers there on the scene outside of this Iraqi embassy. He was the one speaking, and he's speaking in German, and the voice you heard was that of our reporter Gaven Morris.

And, Gaven, as I understand it, we are trying to get some translation of what we saw being announced from the police officer down there on the ground. It appears he was advising those residences we have been talking about, who had apparently been assembling there on the sidewalk. Gaven, if I could ask you this, and I apologize if this is catching you off guard here, but we talked about this group which is calling itself the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany, and how it has been previously unheard of, and it's rather -- has been an inconspicuous group. Has there been any increase of activity of many of the groups that you may have already had heard of, group that may have already had a higher profile and were also opposition members as well from Iraq there in Germany? MORRIS: There are definitely legitimate voices within Germany that are not particularly happy with the very strong stand that the German government is taking, in that they don't see any need to the end of the regime Saddam Hussein and that Germany should not be involved, but this group, this group, nobody has seen in any protests, nobody has heard of in any sort of public forum before. Whether there are people within this group who have been part of other groups, we don't know, but I think I mentioned before, Leon, that the Iraqi National Congress, which is a respected group, is treated as the opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime in exile, because most of it -- not all of it existed outside of Iraq, they have condemned this action.

So if this group is claiming any sort of allegiance to official Iraqi groups here in Germany, the Iraqi National Congress is certainly trying to distance itself from it at a bigger level. They are saying that this is an obscure group to them, so I don't know who they are. They don't know any of the individuals involved according to what they know at the moment.

And as I say, until they talk us, or until or we know something from them, until this siege is over, it's a waiting game -- Leon.

HARRIS: Understood, Gaven, I want to standby for just a quick second. I want to again give some folks who are perhaps just tuning in the information about what they are seeing right now. What you are looking at right now is the scene of the overtaking of the Iraqi embassy in Berlin, Germany, by a group calling itself the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany. They have called for the ouster of Saddam Hussein, saying this is the first step in the retaking of their fatherland, and these pictures that we are watching right now, we are trying to get some translation from some of the comments that was saw someone making moments ago. These pictures are coming in to us from the Reuters news service. We are also trying to get others from another news service that we use quite a bit the APTV service. As soon as we get those pictures, we will turn those around and give you a fresher perspective on this.

Gaven, for those who are just now tuning in, can you give us another wrapup of what you know is happening inside of this embassy compound?

MORRIS: Yes, just to recap, Leon, what we know is that there are a unknown number of occupants that forced their way into the Iraqi embassy a little over two hours ago. Let me tell you what we are seeing before the recap. I told you before that we saw the special forces in bulletproof vests in Alacavlas (ph). Well, are now seeing them move in on the area. So we don't know again if that it is significant, but they are moving towards that area, not in any sort of attacking or aggressive position. But it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Back to what we know happened, as I say, two hours ago, this occupation happened. We know hopefully less than 10, the police say, hostages inside, including the ambassador, and two people were injured when this siege began, not injured by gunshots, which is important, but locals did reported hearing gunshots when the incident began. Unconfirmed whether they were gunshots, but that is certainly what some locals we have spoken to have said. What we can say is the injuries to these two people are not gunshots. We think -- the police think -- that they were injuries sustained in some sort of scuffle when these people entered the embassy some two hours ago.

That's where we're at the moment. They're saying that they are the Democrat Iraqi opposition of Germany. They are saying that it's a peaceful and temporary protest, it's the beginning of their campaign to overturn Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, and that just to quote them briefly again, Leon, they are saying the Iraqi people and their legitimate leadership, declare the liberation of Iraqi soil begins today -- Leon.

HARRIS: Gaven Morris, reporting live, extensively for us, from the scene there at the Iraqi embassy in Berlin, Germany. Gavin, thank you very much.




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