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 Post subject: Aussie Hostage in Iraq
PostPosted: Mon May 02, 2005 11:27 am 

AN emergency response team is preparing to fly to Iraq to attempt to secure the release of Australian hostage Douglas Wood but Prime Minister John Howard said Australia would not negotiate with hostage takers.
Iraqi insurgents released a video overnight of Mr Wood - thought to be a 63-year-old Australian citizen living in California - pleading for his life at gunpoint and calling for the withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the hostage team would include Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) staff, Australian Federal Police and defence personnel.

"That will be getting going as quickly as is humanly possibly to go to Iraq to reinforce the efforts that our embassy is making on the ground there," Mr Downer said on ABC.

Meanwhile, Mr Howard said he would do whatever he could to secure Mr Wood's release, short of negotiate with the hostage takers.

The videotape shows the words Shura Council of the Mujahedden of Iraq, a group previously responsibile for attacks on US soldiers and Iraqi forces, as well as the kidnapping of Turkish national Aytullah Gezmen, who was freed in September.

"Everybody knows the position of the Australian government in relation to hostage demands," Mr Howard said.

"We'll continue to do all we can consistent with our position on not giving in to hostage-takers and we can't alter that position and we won't alter that position.

"We can't have the foreign policy of this country dictated by terrorists."

He also said while he accepted responsibility for the fate of Mr Wood, he stood by his commitment to the coalition effort in Iraq.

"I can understand the anguish people are going through and I feel for them very deeply because this really is the tough end of any kind of difficult and controversial decision," Mr Howard said.

"I feel total responsibility for any harm that comes to anybody as a result of the decisions that the Government has taken.

"If you imagine for a moment that I don't feel a great sense of personal involvement and responsibility, you'd be wrong."

'Help me'

On the two-minute video, the sandy-haired man identifies himself as Douglas Wood, a 63-year-old who lives in California and is married to an American.

He calls on US, Australian and British authorities to withdraw from the country.

"Please help me. I don't want to die," he says on the tape, which shows him sitting on the floor as two masked men armed with assault rifles and wearing bulletproof vests stand on either side of him.

The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified.

Australian, coalition and Iraqi officials in Baghdad declined to comment on reports of the hostage-taking today.

In Canberra, officials were trying to verify that the man on the tape was in fact citizen Douglas Wood, said Robin Richey, of the Australian consular emergency centre.

"We're looking into the situation at the moment," he said.

"We've seen the reports of the kidnapping of a person named Douglas Wood. We're just trying to confirm that he's an Australian citizen and that is his identity.

"We have, as you might imagine, many Douglas Woods, so we need to confirm his identity and notify his next of kin before we do anything else."

Diplomats at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad referred calls to Canberra.

Mr Wood says on the tape that he has worked in Iraq for more than a year and that he "has done many jobs with the American military".

It is not clear what sort of work he does.

The tape shows him dressed in civilian clothes.

A statement from the militants issued with the tape said it had been released to coincide with a visit to Iraq by Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill.

The statement said Mr Wood had confessed to "dirty acts on our soil".

"My captors are fiercely patriotic. They believe in a strong, united Iraq looking after its own destiny," Mr Wood says on the tape, his head slumped forward and his voice close to breaking.

"President Bush, Prime Minister Howard, Governor Schwarzenegger ... take the troops out of here and let Iraq look after itself."

Mr Hill has been in Iraq for talks in Baghdad with new Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and to visit Australian troops.

Some 450 Australian troops are due to join coalition forces in southern Iraq by mid-May, increasing the number of Australian troops in the country to more than 800.

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