Harrowing video shows hostage in plea for life

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The Independent Online

The anguished family of an Australian held hostage by Iraqi militants made a fresh plea for his freedom yesterday after his captors released a second video demanding Canberra start withdrawing troops within 72 hours.

The anguished family of an Australian held hostage by Iraqi militants made a fresh plea for his freedom yesterday after his captors released a second video demanding Canberra start withdrawing troops within 72 hours.

On Friday al-Jazeera television broadcast part of the militants' new tape of Douglas Wood, 63, an engineer who lives in California and is married to an American. His head was shaved and he looked despondent as he apparently pleaded for his life. Two masked militants stood by with guns pointed towards the hostage in the video which carried the name of the group, Shura Council of the Mujahideen in Iraq.

Mr Wood's brother, Malcolm, said in a televised statement to be shown on al- Jazeera: "The family is horrified to hear of this ultimatum. We do not believe Douglas's captivity, or this ultimatum, will make any difference to the policy of the Australian government. Douglas is a warm man of generous heart and spirit. His work is to help the people of Iraq towards a better life. We respect the people of Iraq, their patriotic spirit and their right to independence."

The Wood family met leaders from Australia's Islamic community on Saturday, who also made a plea in Arabic, also to be shown on al-Jazeera.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, stood firm on Canberra's refusal to give in to the militants. "The important thing is that we don't look as though we're starting to cave in and give in to demands," he told Australian radio on Saturday.

"If you give in to demands ... more people eventually ... will be taken hostage and further demands made, so it's important we be strong and that, for the government's part, it continues working at trying to get Douglas out."

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs warned yesterday that Australians in Iraq could be at risk of copy-cat kidnappings.

Mr Downer has said that Mr Wood may have been kidnapped from his Baghdad apartment up to two days before the first two-minute video was delivered to news agencies on Sunday.

That video showed Mr Wood pleading at gunpoint for Australia, Britain and the United States to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Australia, a staunch US ally, was among the first to join the war on Iraq two years ago. A new batch of 450 troops are due to arrive in southern Iraq in the coming weeks, taking the total number in and around Iraq to about 1,400.

Opinions polls in May last year showed that nearly two-thirds of Australians believed the war was unjustified. Half believed it was not worth sending troops, while 40 percent backed the conservative government's decision. This, however, did not stop the Prime Minister, John Howard, winning a fourth straight term last October.

The Labor Party's foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, said yesterday: "Now is the time to stand shoulder to shoulder as Australia to try and secure Mr Wood's release."

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