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3 Tourists Kidnapped in Iran Are Released

Authorities say the two Germans and Irishman were captured by drug smugglers. A $6-million ransom demand went unmet, official declares.

December 29, 2003|From Times Wire Services

TEHRAN — Three Europeans taken hostage while bicycling in southeastern Iran this month have been released, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Sunday.

Kharrazi was quoted on state television as saying the three were in good health. The $6-million ransom demand was not paid, another Iranian official said.

Officials said drug smugglers seized the hostages -- two from Germany and one from Ireland -- Dec. 2 in Sistan-Baluchistan province as they cycled to the city of Zahedan from Bam, which was hit by a devastating earthquake Friday.

A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman expressed "relief over the happy outcome" and said Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer telephoned Kharrazi to offer his thanks. The three were reportedly en route to Tehran on Sunday.

Iranian media identified the hostages as David Storm and Oliver Brug of Germany and Aidan James Leahy of Ireland.

The kidnappers had demanded $6 million in ransom for the three tourists, but Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asghar Ahmadi said no ransom was paid and that the hostages' release was arranged by the provincial security council. He did not elaborate.

Kidnapping of Western tourists is rare in Iran. Most European countries advise their citizens that travel to Iran is safe but urge caution in the border areas.

The eastern borders are a key transit route for drug traffickers carrying opium and heroin from Afghanistan.

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