Sandy Huffaker  /  AP
Lilya Salomi weeps upon hearing brother Issa Salomi was freed from kidnappers in Iraq, while being comforted by Issa's wife Muna, with his sons Andrew, left, and Claude, right, in San Diego on Saturday, March 27, 2010. The U.S. says Issa Salomi, an Iraqi-American contractor believed to have been kidnapped in Baghdad in January, is back in American hands. (AP Photo/Sandy Huffaker)
updated 3/28/2010 1:17:25 AM ET 2010-03-28T05:17:25

The family of an Iraqi-American contractor said to have been kidnapped in Baghdad in January rejoiced Saturday over his release, saying they did not believe they would see him alive again.

Issa Salomi, 60, spoke with his 27-year-old son Roger Friday and told him that memories of the birth of the oldest of his four boys sustained him during captivity, said Vivian Tilley, a niece.

A few hours later, Salomi called his wife of 30 years, Mura Salomi, and asked for her homemade tabbouleh when he arrived home.

"I was screaming," Mura Salomi said in interview Saturday. "Really, I didn't think he'd be alive ... I can't wait to hug him and put him in my arms."

A Shiite extremist group claimed responsibility for the Jan. 23 kidnapping and posted a video online that showed a man wearing military fatigues, reading a list demands for the release of militants, the prosecution of Blackwater guards and an immediate U.S. troop withdrawal.

A Pentagon statement Saturday said only that Salomi was back under military control, but gave no details on his disappearance or return. The statement said the circumstances of the case are under investigation.

Mura Salomi was told to be prepared to reunite with her husband within the next week at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. She, like other family members, said she didn't know the circumstances of his abduction, captivity or release.

The family learned he was safe Thursday afternoon but U.S. authorities asked them not to say anything publicly until Saturday.

Salomi arrived in the United States in 1991, days before the U.S. forces invaded Iraq, with the help of his older sister, who arrived in Syracuse, N.Y., from Baghdad in 1974. He had studied civil engineering in England.

He became a U.S. citizen and returned to Iraq in 2007 on an assignment from an Army contractor. He returned to San Diego occasionally to visit, most recently between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Mura Salomi, who is seeking a kidney donor while on dialysis, said her husband called her three times a day from Iraq to check on her and kept her spirits high.

"He never missed one day," she said outside a family business, a supermarket in the heart of San Diego's Barrio Logan, a heavily Latino neighborhood.

The family also owns liquor store in San Diego and houses in San Diego and suburban El Cajon, home to a large community of Iraqi expatriates.

The family said it never knew the nature of his work in Iraq but that he was dedicated to his job.

"He felt like America has been so good to him, he felt it was his time to help America," Tilley said. "I guess you could say he's returning the favor."

The same group that claimed responsibility for Salomi's abduction was believed to be behind the kidnapping of British computer consultant Peter Moore in May 2007 along with his four British bodyguards. Moore was handed over to Iraqi authorities in late December. Three of the bodyguards were killed and the fourth is believed dead.

It was unclear after Salomi's disappearance whether he was taken as part of a terrorist scheme. A U.S. intelligence official at the time said initial investigations indicated he was abducted by criminals for revenge or money.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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