SYDNEY, Australia – Australia (search) formed a team of diplomats, defense staff and police on Monday who will attempt to free an engineer seized by Iraqi insurgents, but the government had a blunt message for the kidnappers: Australia will not remove its troops from Iraq or pay any ransom.
In a tape obtained Sunday by Associated Press Television News, a man identified himself as Douglas Wood (search), 63, an Australian working in Iraq, and appealed for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops. Two people wearing masks pointed automatic weapons at him.
"Please help me. I don't want to die," Wood said, his voice cracking with emotion in the video, aired repeatedly Monday on Australian television.
On the tape, the Shura Council of the Mujahedeen of Iraq claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
Wood's wife, Pearl, told AP that the man on the tape was definitely her husband. She said he had worked in Iraq as an engineer for about a year and a half.
In the tape, Wood appealed to U.S. President George W. Bush (search), British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard to pull their soldiers out of Iraq and leave the country to Iraqis to look after themselves.
That's not going to happen, Howard said.
"Everybody knows the position of the Australian government in relation to hostage demands," Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "We can't have the foreign policy of this country dictated by terrorists."
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said paying ransom would only lead to more hostage-taking.
"It is not the way to go," Downer said. "There are rumors that some groups in Iraq think they can fund their insurgent activities by taking people hostage and getting payments. We're certainly never going to be part of that."
A special task force of federal police and officials from the foreign and defense ministries will be sent to Iraq, he said.
"I don't want to get, as you can understand, into too much detail as to what the team will do," Downer said. "They have, of course, all a lot of resources that they can help to bring to bear to help to try to resolve this."
Wood's brother Malcolm, who lives in a quiet suburb of the national capital, Canberra, said his family was "distressed and extremely concerned about his situation."
"We trust that our government and its officials, liaising with other governments and agencies as appropriate, will do all that is reasonably in their power to confirm his situation and develop a response," he said in a statement. The family appealed for privacy and declined to answer any media questions.
The kidnapping — the first of an Australian since January, when journalist John Martinkus was captured and briefly held by insurgents who later released him unharmed — came as Australia is boosting its troop presence in southern Iraq.
It sent 2,000 troops to take part in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It pared that number down to about 900 after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime but now has 1,370 troops in or on their way to the region.
Their commander said his forces would not be deterred by the kidnapping.
"I'm a soldier and I'm here to do this job and we are going to do it," Lt. Col. Roger Noble told ABC Radio.