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Jubilant ex-hostage tells of rescue


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An Australian hostage held in captivity for more than a month and a half appeared jubilant Wednesday from his hospital room after being freed from his captors by Iraqi soldiers on a security sweep in northwestern Baghdad.

"The Iraqi forces did a very good job of saving me," Douglas Wood said from his hospital bed.

Flashing a thumbs up, he added, "God bless America."

His upbeat mood was in stark contrast to videos released by his hostage-takers during his captivity, when guns were pointed at his head.

Wood, 63, said he was treated "pretty fair" during his 47 days in captivity, but noted that he had been kicked in the head at one point and had been fed a lot of bread and water.

He said at one point he was moved to the location where he was discovered Wednesday and that he had been there for 35 days.

He said he was frightened as the doors were kicked in and shooting erupted during the rescue. His captors had tied him up and placed a blanket over him to conceal him.

"I wasn't sure what was happening," he said. "First thing is there was a bit of shooting outside ... then there's still a lot of yelling and screaming."

Eventually, his rescuers took the blanket off and Wood realized "I'm still alive."

The video of Wood was released by the U.S. Defense Department. He was being examined at a medical treatment facility at a U.S. Army camp.

The U.S. military said Wood was discovered by Iraqi soldiers who were conducting a planned "cordon-and-search operation for a weapons cache" in the Al Adel neighborhood of Baghdad.

An Iraqi hostage was also freed in the neighborhood, the military said.

Three people were detained in the operation, in which Iraqi soldiers faced "light resistance" and found "a weapons cache, which included four AK-47 rifles and a sniper rifle," the military said.

General Naseer al-Abadi, a top Iraqi military official, said the insurgents told soldiers the man was a sick relative.

The Iraqis handed Wood over to the Americans to be brought to an American military medical facility, where he was examined and pronounced in good health.

Wood is now under the protection of the Australian Emergency Response Team in Baghdad.

Wood has an American wife and resides in California. His family, trying to secure his release, had taken out advertisements in Iraqi newspapers that said he had a pre-existing heart condition and listed medications needed to keep him healthy.

Wood spoke by telephone to family members in Australia and appeared in good spirits, asking his brothers "where's my beer?" (Full story)

Nick Warner, the head of the Australian Emergency Response Team that worked to find Wood, told reporters that the operation was "part of the broader scheme of operations going on in the Baghdad area," a reference to the Operation Lightning crackdown in the capital.

"There was some specific intelligence and some specific tips that provided a hint as to what might be found in the location," Warner said.

"Mr. Wood has been in captivity for 47 days. In that time, he has been blindfolded and handcuffed. He has not been well looked after.

"The operation that rescued him this morning resulted, as I understand it, in no casualties. It was an immensely professional operation. Those who were holding Mr. Wood were themselves captured."

He also stressed that "at no time was any ransom paid by the Australian government" during his captivity.

Earlier, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said: "I know all Australians will be jubilant over this news. This man has suffered immensely.

"And I want to, on behalf of all of the parliament, to pay tribute to the dignity and strength of his family," which Howard described as "deeply impressive."

Wood -- a civilian contractor who had been working in Iraq -- was kidnapped on April 30.

The Australian government's efforts to secure his release included an extensive media and political campaign aimed at reaching out to Iraqi leaders.

By the end of May, Warner said, the kidnappers opened a channel of communication with authorities through an intermediary and an Australian Muslim leader opened his own channel of communication.

Wood is the second high-profile hostage in Iraq to be freed this week.

French journalist Florence Aubenas, who had been held hostage for the last five months, was freed along with her Iraqi interpreter, Hussein Hanoun, on Sunday. (Full story)

Nearly 30 people are still being held hostage in Iraq.


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