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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

RESCUED OR RELEASED? PT II

CNN reports:

Australian hostage Douglas Wood was rescued when Iraqi soldiers stumbled across him during a security sweep in Baghdad, according to a U.S. military official.

Wood, 64, was working as an engineer in Iraq when he was abducted six weeks ago.

Soldiers from the Iraqi army were conducting a pre-planned search in the al-Adel neighborhood of northwestern Baghdad on Wednesday morning when they came upon Wood and an Iraqi national being held hostage.

The soldiers, from the 2nd Battalion 1st Brigade of the Iraqi army, had not been acting with specific intelligence on his whereabouts, the official told CNN.

In the course of the operation, they met light resistance and as a result three people were detained. Their nationalities are not known.

The operation took place during a U.S. and Iraqi crackdown in Baghdad against insurgents.

That account is dramatically at odds with the version of events described by Sheikh al-Hillali spokesman Keysar Trad:

KEYSAR TRAD: The Mufti told me on Sunday that we could hear some definitive positive news this Wednesday and he had been communicating with the negotiating authority. The problem from their end is that he’s been given these assurances before and they didn’t eventuate and this time they did. This time the mufti’s been more positive and more optimistic than ever before. He said keep a tight lid on it because previous promises had fizzled out. We want this one to come to fruition before we said anything about it. We’re absolutely elated now that this one did come to fruition.

GEORGE NEGUS: Where is the Sheik at the moment, he’s in Cairo isn’t he?

KEYSAR TRAD: He’s in Cairo.

GEORGE NEGUS: So he’s been this touch with proxies?

KEYSAR TRAD: That’s correct. He’s been in touch with proxies, tribal elders, influential people who had been indirectly communicating with the abductors. He’s also been in touch with confidential sources he’s been communicating with over this period and he’s been given these assurances by all these different people and he said Wednesday is going to be an important day but don’t say anything until it happens, and now it has happened.

GEORGE NEGUS: Why now Keysar? What situation has changed and how have things altered in Iraq that would make it possible for this to happen now and not before?

KEYSAR TRAD: What’s happen is the abductors had communicated to the mufti three final demands before he returned to Baghdad the second time. When he got there, he found that there were some obstacles to these demands being met even though they were quite reasonable when you consider them. When I spoke to him on Sunday, he said to me there had been some other minor things and if this eventuates, then the release will take place.

GEORGE NEGUS: Basically what were the demands?

KEYSAR TRAD: The original three demands were that the Americans in particular, when they raid homes looking for insurgents, that they don’t arrest women and minors, just on suspicion that they might be related to the insurgents. That’s one of the key demands and that’s something that is supposed to be guaranteed under the United States convention for treatment of people under occupation. Second demand was a better deal for orphans in Iraq. There had not been enough services for them. And the third one is to try and do something for if media to stop demonising the resistance because they see themselves as a genuine liberation movement and not as terrorists.

GEORGE NEGUS: The Prime Minister said there was a military operation involved in Douglas Wood’s rescue as distinct from his release. Now is there a discrepancy, would you say that the Sheik thinks he’s been rescued or released?

KEYSAR TRAD: There is no discrepancy because this has to be put into perspective. Iraq is a war zone and for a hostage to be released there has to be enough military personnel present at the release site to guarantee his safety. What the mufti said to me is that a release site had been communicated.

GEORGE NEGUS: So he knew where people would go?

KEYSAR TRAD: This is what the mufti had communicated to me at 7.30 this evening, that a release site had been communicated and somebody had to go in there and make sure that the hostage could be picked up safely.

GEORGE NEGUS: So you are saying that there is no discrepancy, for that to happen there had to be military security involved, as distinct from a shootout?

KEYSAR TRAD: That’s correct. If there had been a shootout, then you would hear that there were casualties, people dead on both sides. If there had been a shootout then the likelihood of a safe release or a safe extraction of the hostage would have been reduced dramatically.

GEORGE NEGUS: Would the mufti have passed this information on to the Australian task force in Iraq?

KEYSAR TRAD: The mufti has been cooperating with the task force and they’ve been cooperating with him. He said to me that he’s got not enough words of gratitude for the support that they have given him. They’ve been supporting him all along from the first day. If it wasn’t for the support of the Australian Government, he may be still waiting on the border, waiting for a visa, but they have been helping him and he’s been working with them, co-operating from the first day and as a result now we have got an outcome that we can all be proud of as Australians.

GEORGE NEGUS: Certainly, now he would have been able to tell the people trying to rescue Douglas Wood where and when this was likely to happen and that’s what we’ve seen come to culmination tonight?

KEYSAR TRAD: That’s correct. He wouldn’t have had the final location until just today, so the authorities wouldn’t have known about a final location until today.

Via Currency Lad in comments, here’s a Reuters piece combining the tip-off theory with CNN’s pre-planned raid story:

An Iraqi general said Wood was found when Iraqi troops raided a Baghdad house and pulled back a blanket.

"He was under a blanket. He was tied down and they claimed that he was their father and he was sick,” said Nasir Abadi.

Nick Warner, an Australian diplomat heading a special team dealing with the kidnapping, said the raid was part of a broad security sweep but there had also been a specific tip about the house’s occupants.

Be interesting to learn the source of that tip.

UPDATE:

The U.S.-based engineer was rescued by an elite team of U.S. and Iraqi troops at 8.30am yesterday (Baghdad time) at a house about one hour’s drive from the Iraqi capital.

Australian SAS troops working with the Government hostage team also were involved in planning the rescue operation.

Well-placed government sources said the authorities were tipped off about Mr Wood’s location.

"U.S. and Iraqi forces knocked on the door and lo and behold, Mr Wood was there,” a source said.

Keysar Trad, the Sydney spokesman for the Mufti of Australia, Sheik Taj el-Din Al Hilaly, last night said it was the sheik who provided the crucial information.

UPDATE II:

No-one was injured in the raid, Warner said, but he declined to comment on whether Wood was tortured.

"He has been blindfolded, handcuffed, he has not been well looked after,” he said.

He said “no ransom was paid” despite a request for a “very large” amount of money.

UPDATE III:
Sheik Hilaly thanked “honest Iraqis” for helping him organise the release of Mr Wood. “My mission is successful,” he said in an interview with SBS’s Arabic language program.

Posted by Tim B. on 06/15/2005 at 11:51 AM
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