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German woman kidnapped in Baghdad freed by Iraqi security forces

Hella Mewis, who ran an arts programme in the capital, was kidnapped as she was leaving her office on Monday
Mewis told her friend that she had been worried for her safety after the murder of Hisham al-Hashemi (AFP)

A German woman who was kidnapped in Baghdad earlier this week has been freed, Iraqi officials confirmed on Friday. 

Iraq government spokesman Yahya Rasool said "security forces have freed activist Hella Mewis," but did not give any further details on when Mewis was rescued or who had kidnapped her.

Abdelsattar Bayraqdar, a spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council, said the operation to rescue Mewis had been backed by a Baghdad investigative court. 

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Mewis, who ran an arts programmes at Iraqi collective Tarkib, was kidnapped on Monday as she was leaving her office.

"She was riding her bicycle when two cars, one of them a white pickup truck [of the type] used by some security forces, were seen kidnapping her," a security source told AFP.

Police officers at the local station witnessed the abduction but did not intervene, the source added.

Mewis's phone was still unreachable on Friday and her friends had not heard from her. 

A friend of the German's told AFP that Mewis had been worried following the killing of Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi scholar who had been supportive of anti-government protests last year. 

"I spoke to her (Mewis) last week and she was really involved in the protests too, so she was nervous after the assassination," said the friend, Dhikra Sarsam. 

Spike in abductions of foreigners

Anti-government protests erupted in Baghdad and southern Iraq last year, with corruption and Iranian influence in Iraq a particular focus.

At least 550 people died during the protests, including two dozen activists shot dead by unidentified men.  

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Dozens had also been kidnapped, some near their homes, while the whereabouts of others remain unknown. 

Amnesty International has slammed the incidents as "a growing lethal campaign of harassment, intimidation, abductions and deliberate killings of activists and protesters".

This year has seen a worrying spike in abductions of foreigners, who had not been targeted in several years.  

Last year, two French freelance journalists were taken hostage for 36 hours and three French NGO workers were held for two months.