Rescued Australian hostage 'forced to listen to executions'

AN AUSTRALIAN engineer rescued from militant kidnappers in Baghdad had to listen as his captors murdered two Iraqi hostages next to him, he said yesterday.

Douglas Wood, 64, said his kidnappers also killed two of his Iraqi assistants and dumped their bodies at a Baghdad garbage tip.

"I feel absolutely rotten," Mr Wood said. "I was the ultimate cause of it."

He said he planned to send money to the families of the dead men.

Mr Wood was freed earlier this month after 47 days in captivity in a joint operation involving Iraqi and US troops in a dangerous Sunni neighbourhood of Baghdad.

He said when his liberation finally came, he was terrified that the men storming into his room might be terrorists.

"The fear side of me is thinking maybe bloody al-Qaeda turned up and decided to take over and that meant 'cut-the-throat time'," he said.

Mr Wood, an Australian who lives in Alamo, near San Francisco, with his American wife, said that during his time in captivity, the kidnappers stamped on his head and kept him handcuffed and blindfolded. Describing the brutal slayings of the two Iraqis held with him, Mr Wood said the first victim was knocked to the ground by their captors.

"He collapsed to the ground. His head was maybe two inches from my foot and bang, bang, bang - even a silenced gun is very consciously a gun shot in an enclosed space," he said.

Just 24 hours passed before the militants murdered another captive.

"The next night they came in and there was a television set. They turned up the volume and then bang, and a minute later another bang."

Wood was abducted on 30 April after he was lured to what he thought was a business meeting. He had been working for more than a year in Iraq as a contractor.

He said that during his captivity he kept his mind active and attempted to stave off boredom by recalling images of past vacations, all his former girlfriends, and of buying ice cream as a child.

"I was conscious of trying to keep myself sane by exercising my mind," he said in a TV interview.

A video link was set up so that Mr Wood could talk to a Swede, Ulf Hjertstrom, who was kidnapped by insurgents on 25 March and released on May 30. The two spent part of their captivity together.

Mr Hjertstrom, 63, said he had "put some people to work" to track down their captors.

"We will get them one by one," he said. "These scum should be out of business."

Mr Wood's wife, Yvonne Given, kept a low profile throughout his captivity.

"I was worried again that anything I said might cause his death," she said.

She described her emotional reunion with her husband in Dubai.

"It was pretty grand; my big bear of a man hugging me again. It was super."

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