MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian engineer dramatically rescued from insurgents in Baghdad last week said Monday he feared his captors would murder him, but never gave up hope of leaving Iraq alive.
Douglas Wood, who returned Monday to Australia, said he was still considering whether to return to Iraq, where he had been working for about a year before he was kidnapped, and added that he still supports U.S. and Australian policies in Iraq — particularly efforts to train Iraqi security forces.
“I actually believe I am proof positive that the current policies of training the Iraqi army ... worked because it was the Iraqis that got me out,” he said at a news conference at Melbourne Airport.
Iraqi and U.S. troops freed Wood, a 64-year-old resident of Alamo, Calif., early on June 15 from a Baghdad house where insurgents were holding him for ransom. Wood said he never gave up hope during his 47-day ordeal that his family would keep trying to free him.
“I love my family, and I knew that they would be doing everything they could,” said Wood, his American wife by his side, along with his two brothers and their wives.
‘A bit intimidating’
Wood described his treatment at the hands of the kidnappers — who at one stage kicked him in the head and shaved off all his hair — as “a bit intimidating.” He said he sometimes feared they would kill him.
Wood suffers a heart condition, but his captors gave him medication apparently passed to them by a senior Australian Islamic cleric who was working to secure his release.
An emotional Wood yelled “Waltzing Matilda” — the title of Australia’s unofficial national song — as he entered the news conference.
“It’s good to be home,” he said.
Australia sent a hostage negotiation team with elite troops to Iraq to try to secure Wood’s freedom after he was abducted on April 30. The government refused the kidnappers’ demands for Australia to withdraw its 1,400 troops from Iraq and pay a reported $19 million ransom.
Wood was freed by Iraqi and U.S. troops during a search of a house in Ghazaliya, one of the most dangerous Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad.
Sheik Taj El Din al-Hilaly, an Egyptian-born Sunni cleric who flew from his Sydney home shortly after the abduction to negotiate Wood’s release, said Sunday the hostage was to have been freed later that day anyway.
“This place was similar to a transit place for the final delivery which was planned to happen on the same day at 6 p.m.,” al-Hilaly, Australia’s mufti since 1989, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television in Cairo.
Defense Minister Robert Hill said he had no information to support the claims of the mufti, who has been praised by the Australian government for his efforts to secure Wood’s freedom.
Wood said he did not know who the insurgents were who kidnapped him.
“I didn’t know whether it was al-Qaida or who it was,” he said. “My head is intact, so it wasn’t al-Qaida.”
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