CANBERRA – Douglas Wood, the 63-year-old Australian engineer rescued last week from kidnappers in Iraq, flew into Melbourne yesterday to a joyful reunion with his family but with questions still surrounding his release…
The spiritual leader of Australia’s Muslims, Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali also flew to Iraq to help find and free Wood, at one stage igniting controversy by claiming to have evidence that the still-hidden engineer was alive and well.
Alhilali returned to Sydney yesterday, claiming that Wood’s captors had originally sought a A$25 million ransom, but that they had subsequently agreed to release him at 6pm last Wednesday, the day troops found him bound and concealed beneath a blanket in a Baghdad house.
He told the ABC Lateline programme that the group holding him when Iraqi troops burst in had been using the house as a transit station for his release, and had been unarmed because they wanted to deliver Wood safe and well.
“They didn’t know who these forces were because they had agreed to deliver him to me, so they had good reason to be frightened for Douglas’ life from any forces who attacked this house, of course,” he said.
It still remains uncertain how Wood was discovered, with conflicting reports that the raid was either the result of a tip-off or a chance discovery during sweeps by the Iraqi Army and US troops.
Yesterday Prime Minister John Howard said Australian officials in Iraq had confirmed that the discovery was the result of a “sweep and cordon” operation, during which troops had been told that specific houses should be searched…