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Iraqi Consulate Taken Over in Berlin

Aired August 20, 2002 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Iraq's charge d'affaires to Germany apparently is among a group of hostages at the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin. Now, the intruders claim to be an Iraqi opposition group, and they are saying that the occupation is -- quote -- "peaceful and temporary" -- unquote, and it's aimed at pressing for Saddam Hussein's removal from power.
German police are at the scene in force as this drama unfolds, and so is our Gaven Morris. He has been covering this for us step by step. He joins us now on the phone with the very latest -- Gaven.

GAVEN MORRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, I can update you. I know before, we were talking about how we were -- we and the public were very close to this situation.

Just in the last few minutes, they have now pushed everybody well, well back, probably 200 meters now away from this embassy, or what some officials in Baghdad have told us is actually a consulate. So it may well be a consulate and not an embassy.

And just to correct that other detail, we believe it is the charge d-affaires, and not the ambassador, who has been taken hostage.

Let me recap on all of the details of this. About two-and-a-half hours ago, what happened was a number of people -- we now believe it may be four or five people -- stormed into the consulate or the embassy here. And what they did was they overpowered some security at the front, and then they took a number of people hostage. We believe that number now could be maybe five or six people.

They injured two security personnel on the way into the building, and importantly, these people are not injured badly. They are only minor injuries. They are definitely not gunshot injuries.

The police say they don't know whether these occupiers have any weapons, but there were some reports of some shots being fired. Local residents confirmed to us that they think they heard shots being fired as this situation began. But we don't know from whose guns or whether there were guns that those sounds came from.

So that's where we are at the moment. The police are saying not much has developed since then.

What has developed on the outside of the building is that more and more emergency vehicles are turning up. Special Forces of the German police are now here in some number. And a short time ago, we saw them putting on bullet-proof vests, putting on armored-plated helmets and balaclavas, and with some submachine guns moving towards the consulate here.

So we don't know if that is indicative of any sort of action that they may take, or whether that is just a precaution, but that has definitely happened just in the last few minutes.

There are ambulances here. There are fire trucks here. There is also even an armored vehicle, some sort of -- maybe not an armored personnel carrier, but certainly an armored vehicle on standby here for whatever may eventuate.

Now, what happened with this group is they put a statement out. They call themselves the Democratic Iraqi Opposition of Germany. And they say, as you mentioned, this is a "peaceful and temporary" protest.

To quote their statement, they are saying, "The Iraqi people and their legitimate leadership declare the liberation of Iraqi soil begins today" -- end of quote.

And they're saying this is the first step of a campaign to unseat Saddam Hussein from power. But crucially, it must be mentioned that this group, whatever legitimacy they claim in terms of popular support, is unknown to most of the groups that also claim legitimacy as Iraqi opposition groups.

The Iraqi National Congress, which is recognized as probably the largest and most legitimate opposition groups to Saddam Hussein's regime, they say that they condemn this occupation, and that this group is very obscure even to them. They are not quite sure who they are. The police say they have never really had any contact with them before. And they certainly have not been violent before or been involved in protests in any significant way.

So, Leon, that's where we're at the moment. Everybody on standby, waiting to see what happens next, as this siege outside the Berlin Consulate of Iraq continues -- Leon.

HARRIS: That's very interesting. So no one has heard of this group, that's very interesting.

And, Gaven, thank you for clarifying that and confirming these other new nuggets here that it was not the ambassador there who was there on the grounds, but the charge d'affaires, and this is at a consulate not at an embassy.

Gaven do you know where the Iraqi Embassy is, if this is not the embassy?

MORRIS: We don't know. It's not in this area. And what we think is that this consulate was opened only six weeks ago.

Now, that may end up being significant in the scheme of things, because maybe the security precautions were still being developed. We don't know that. But the fact that it has been only open for about six weeks -- in fact, it opened in mid-July, so maybe two months that this has -- well, sorry -- not even a month that this has been opened. That could be significant in the planning behind this group's attack on this facility -- Leon.

HARRIS: Yes, it's a very good point -- a very good point. And it could explain exactly why the security level there would be considerably lower than you would expect at an embassy. That's one reason why it occurred to me as somewhat strange when we first talked last hour about how it was that this could have actually happened, how this group, this small group, could have actually overrun security at an embassy. Most embassies are pretty well guarded.

Let me ask you about this on that particular note. Have the police offered any sort of explanation as to why there are these reports that you have gotten there from residents about their being gunshots possibly, and they're not believing it, or whatever, that they may not have heard guns themselves, or they may not believe that the guns are actually on the property?

MORRIS: The fact that the police are talking about these apparent gunshots is significant. They are saying that they have heard these reports from a number of residents.

We spoke to one resident, in particular, who said that what he heard was a sequence of four shots, followed by another sequence of three.

Now, as I say, the fact that police are talking about this does give it some sort of legitimacy. They can't confirm it themselves. Obviously, they weren't here when the situation began.

But what it could mean is that -- you know, we don't know who these gunshots may have come from, if they were real. It may have well have been some sort of defensive action on the part of the people inside the consulate. Maybe it was the people that were trying to force their way in.

But the important thing is that nobody that we're aware of has certainly been shot, and there are no injuries resulting from any sort of violence of that nature. And that's the most important of all -- Leon.

HARRIS: Very good, very good. Gaven Morris reporting live for us from Berlin -- thank you very much, Gaven. Once again, the instant you hear something new, you get back in touch with us.

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