Fri, Aug 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Kidnapped Austrian woman free after eight years of hell in a cramped cellar

AP , VIENNA

A young woman in Vienna who was a schoolgirl when she vanished more than eight years ago, told police she had been kidnapped and kept in a small cellar for years. Her alleged kidnapper committed suicide after she was found.

Armin Halm, spokesman for Austrian's federal police, said yesterday that Natascha Kampusch had been identified by a scar on one of her upper arms dating back to an operation she had when she was younger. Results of a DNA test were expected later yesterday, but "we are quite sure it's her," Halm said.

The discovery could bring closure to one of the biggest mysteries in recent Austrian history.

Kampusch, then aged 10, vanished in Vienna on her way to school on March 2, 1998. Her disappearance triggered a massive search that extended into Hungary.

On Wednesday afternoon, police said they found the young woman in a yard in a residential area northeast of Vienna. The woman, who was identified late on Wednesday by her father, mother and half-sister, told police that she had been kidnapped and held prisoner by a man, Halm said.

Halm said police found Kampusch's passport in the house in Strasshof, Lower Austria, where she was allegedly kept.

The alleged kidnapper committed suicide by jumping in front of a train in Vienna, Halm said.

He has been identified by Austrian media as 44-year-old Wolfgang Priklopil, a technician. A DNA analysis is under way to confirm his identity, Austrian television reported.

The broadcaster reported that an 80-year-old man found the woman, whom he described as very thin and pale. She was running and screaming and in a state of panic when he saw her, said the man, who was not identified.

Kampusch's sister said in remarks broadcast on Austrian television that her mother almost had a breakdown when police notified her on Wednesday afternoon, adding that her mother always held onto the hope that her daughter would come back one day.

"She always said she was still alive," said the sister, identified by the broadcaster as Sabina Sirny.

Investigators say the woman had been examined by a doctor and that she did not have signs of injuries.

Still, police are investigating whether she was beaten or sexually abused.

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