...HOURS AFTER MY PHONE CALL TO A SOFTWARE COMPANY BASED IN THE UK, AUSTRALIA & MASSACHUSETTS USA AND A CONVERSATION WITH AN AUSSIE.
Wood freed after rebel gunfight
By staff writers and wires
June 16, 2005
Celebration ... Mr Wood has asked for a VB stubby and news on Geelong results / AP AUSTRALIAN hostage Douglas Wood was freed by Iraqi troops when they stumbled on him after a firefight during a search of a suspected insurgent weapons dump near Baghdad.
Troops surrounded a suspected rebel stronghold in the and took up combat positions around it, exchanging fire with gunmen on the rooftop.
Once inside the troops found Mr Wood blindfolded and cuffed underneath a blanket. When they asked the occupants of the house who the man was, they said: "This is our father, he is sick."
Brigadier General Jaleel Khalaf Shewi, commander of the Iraqi brigade that rescued the Australian engineer, said the militants were "taken completely by surprise".
Three people were arrested at the scene and Mr Wood was taken to a Baghdad hospital where he is now resting under the protection of Australian troops.
"I'm extremely happy and delighted to be freed," he said in a statement.
Mr Wood was positively identified by correctly naming his childhood dog to Australian counter-terrorism official Nick Warner in Baghdad.
Friends said today Mr Wood had asked for asked for a Victoria Bitter beer and an update on the progress of Geelong in the AFL championship.
Mr Wood, whose release was reportedly under negotiation by senior Sydney Muslim cleric Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilaly, was freed after 47 days in captivity.
Sheik Hilaly left Iraq earlier this month after claiming several times that Mr Wood's release was "imminent". Supporters of Sheik Hilaly said today the cleric's efforts helped secure Mr Wood's release.
US military officers said, however, that the Iraqi troops effectively "stumbled across Wood" during a "routine" raid on a suspected insurgent weapons cache.
"Iraqi soldiers ... discovered Wood and an Iraqi hostage in the northwest Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Adel while conducting a planned cordon-and-search operation for a weapons cache," a US military statement said.
Prime Minister John Howard told Parliament shortly after 6.45pm last night: "Mr Wood was recovered a short while ago in Baghdad in a military operation that I am told was conducted by Iraqi forces in co-operation in a general way with force elements of the United States".
Mr Howard said Mr Wood, who suffers from a serious heart complaint, had "suffered immensely" in captivity.
The news of his release was conveyed to Mr Wood's brother Malcolm and other family members last night in a phone call by Mr Downer about 6pm.
"They were slightly disbelieving," Mr Downer said. "Their hopes had been raised and dashed over the last six weeks. I told them no, we had the so-called "proof of life" test we had applied - asking him a question and him being able to give a personal answer to that question. Very few have been released by military action of this kind."
Speaking outside his home in Canberra, Malcolm Wood said: "The family, of course, are delighted."
Malcolm Wood and his brother Vernon are due to give a press conference in Canberra at 11am AEST.
Family spokesman Neil Smail said the family had been greatly relieved by the news.
"The family greatly appreciates the work that has been done towards Douglas's release by the Australian government team in Iraq and officials in Canberra, other agencies in Iraq and earlier by Sheik Hilaly."
Mr Howard told parliament that at no stage had a ransom been paid.
Mr Downer said Mr Wood had been "extraordinarily lucky". Canberra had approved in-principle ho