August 23, 2006

Austria woman says flees years’ captivity in garage

VIENNA (Reuters) - A young Austrian woman told police on
Wednesday she had escaped a kidnapper after being held for
eight years in a sealed garage, apparently resolving a missing
child case that shook the nation, officials said.

Police said relatives identified the woman as Natascha
Kampusch, who vanished in 1998 at age 10 while walking to
school, and a major manhunt was under way for a man in his
mid-40s suspected of having abducted her.

Herwig Haidinger, head of the Federal Crime Office (BKA),
said the woman was undergoing DNA tests to confirm her identity
but that investigators were virtually certain she was Kampusch.

Austrian news agency APA quoted them as saying there were
no indications the woman might have suffered sexual abuse.

The woman, very pale but in apparently good physical
health, told police she had escaped earlier in the day from a
house in a village near Vienna where she had been largely
confined in an secured garage since her abduction.

But she said her captor allowed her occasional walks with
him in the neighborhood and access to radio, television,
newspapers and books, and the garage was equipped with a bed
and wardrobe, according to police and local media.

BKA investigator Erich Zwettler, asked why the woman had
not fled while on any of her outings, said she seemed to have
had "Stockholm Syndrome," a psychological condition in which
long-held captives begin to identify with their captors.

"She is white-pale, looking as if she had been out of the
light of day for a long time, but she articulated well and
could read and write," APA quoted a police investigator as

Scores of police were combing eastern Austria by patrol car
and helicopter for a 44-year-old suspect.

Neighborhood witnesses said they saw a car speeding away
after the woman approached residents close to the house where
she said she had been held, and police later found the vehicle
abandoned in an underground garage.

Kampusch's disappearance caused an uproar because it
occurred at a time when Europe was unnerved by a notorious case
of child abduction and murder in Belgium. A nationwide search,
including dragging of riverbeds, found no trace of her.