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Freed Australian Hostage in High Spirits - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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CANBERRA, Australia, AP -Australian Douglas Wood was in high spirits following his rescue from insurgents holding him hostage in Iraq, and has asked for a beer and news of his favorite Australian Rules Football team, his family said Thursday.

At an emotional news conference in Canberra, two of Wood”s brothers, Malcolm and Vernon, described their first telephone conversations with their older brother since his rescue by Iraqi troops backed by U.S. forces Wednesday.

&#34Doug sounded remarkably composed,&#34 Malcolm Wood, 57, told reporters. &#34He asked me whether the Geelong Cats would win the premiership this year.&#34

Wood, a 64-year-old engineer, still supports the Australian Rules Football team in the southern city of Geelong where he grew up, despite having lived for years in Alamo, Calif. Brian Cook of the Geelong Cats said the team will grant Wood a lifetime membership.

On Thursday, Wood was recovering in Baghdad after being held for more than six weeks by insurgents who kicked him in the head, shaved his hair and demanded Australia remove its 1,400 troops from Iraq.

One of Wood”s first questions to Australia”s counterterrorism chief Nick Warner, who headed Australia”s six-week quest to secure the engineer”s release, was whether he had any beer.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who refused to bend to kidnappers” demands and ruled out paying ransom, hailed the successful mission to free Wood as &#34a miracle.&#34

Wood”s brothers said they were overwhelmed when Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer called to tell them the news.

&#34We”ve had our big ups and downs; I think I”ve cried more since Doug was released than when he was captured,&#34 Vernon, 62, said. &#34It”s an overwhelming letting go that”s taken us by storm.&#34

When the emotions settle, the family said it will plead with Wood, the second oldest of four brothers, to leave Iraq, where he has worked as a self-employed contractor for more than a year.

&#34He”s more interested in football and beer,&#34 Vernon said.

The family said they still plan to make good on an offer to make a charitable donation to an Iraqi cause.

&#34We always had strong ethical difficulties with paying a ransom; that”s partly why early on we made an offer to make a charitable donation,&#34 Malcolm said.

Wood”s wife and daughter in America were overjoyed at the news.

&#34I”m just so ecstatic, just so ecstatic,&#34 Yvonne Given said about her husband”s rescue. &#34It was just Doug. I thought he would be weak, but he sounded just up.&#34

Wood verified his identity to liberators by answering a so-called &#34proof of life&#34 question — telling them the name of the family”s pet bulldog in the 1950s — Monty, Howard said.

Australia”s leader said Wood was lucky considering that few of the many hostages taken in Iraq had been rescued.

&#34Mr. Wood must have a guardian angel; he is very lucky,&#34 Howard told Macquarie Radio. &#34It is a miracle that he”s been released.&#34

Downer said a &#34crucial intelligence tip-off&#34 led troops to the house where Wood was captive. A gunfight ensued but no one was injured, Downer said.

Downer told Parliament that Wood would leave Iraq sometime Thursday for an undisclosed location in the Middle East.

Wood was abducted in late April. A militant group calling itself the Shura Council of the Mujahedeen of Iraq released a DVD on May 1 showing him pleading for Australia to withdraw its 1,400 troops from Iraq. Video images released several days later showed him with a shaved head and a black eye, suggesting he had been beaten.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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