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Australian Hostage Returns Home

An Australian engineer from California dramatically rescued from insurgents in Baghdad last week arrived back in his native country Monday, saying he feared his captors would murder him.

But at his first media conference since being freed, Douglas Wood (search) said he never gave up hope during his 47-day ordeal that his family would keep trying to free him.

"I love my family, and I knew that they would be doing everything they could," said Wood, his American wife Yvonne Given (search) and his brothers Vernon and Malcolm and their wives by his side during a press conference at Melbourne Airport (search).

Iraqi and U.S. troops freed Wood, who lives in Alamo, Calif., early on June 15 from a Baghdad house where insurgents were holding him for ransom.

He said he was still considering whether to return to Iraq, where he had been working for about a year before his kidnapping.

He described his treatment at the hands of the kidnappers — who kicked him in the head and shaved off his hair — as "a bit intimidating."

Wood declined to discuss his captors, saying it was "too traumatic."

He said remaining positive had been difficult. Australian officials have said he was blindfolded, handcuffed and fed bread and water throughout most of his 47 days in captivity

Asked if he was feeling fragile after his ordeal, Wood said: "Not especially. I've got some physical ailments and I've been deprived of medication for a bit."

Wood has a heart condition, but his captors gave him medication apparently passed to them by a senior Australian Islamic cleric, who was working to secure his release.

An emotional Wood yelled "Waltzing Matilda" — the title of Australia's unofficial national song — as he entered the press conference.

"It's good to be home," he said.

He also paid tribute to U.S. and Australian moves to train Iraqi soldiers and security forces.

"I actually believe I am proof positive that the current policies of training the Iraqi army ... worked because it was the Iraqis that got me out," he said.

Australia sent a specialist hostage negotiation team with elite troops to Iraq to try to secure Wood's freedom after he was abducted on April 30. The government refused the kidnappers' demands for Australia to withdraw its 1,400 troops from Iraq and pay a reported $19 million ransom.

Wood was freed by Iraqi and U.S. troops during a search of a house in Ghazaliya, one of the most dangerous Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad.

Sheik Taj El Din al-Hilaly, an Egyptian-born Sunni cleric who flew from his Sydney home shortly after the abduction to negotiate Wood's release, said Sunday the hostage was to have been freed later that day anyway.

"This place was similar to a transit place for the final delivery which was planned to happen on the same day at 6 p.m.," al-Hilaly, Australia's mufti since 1989, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television in Cairo.

The mufti, who has been praised by the Australian government for his efforts to secure Wood's freedom, returned to Sydney Monday and declared his mission a success. Wood said he had not heard of the mufti while he was a hostage.

The mufti, who has been praised by the Australian government for his efforts to secure Wood's freedom, said the kidnappers had agreed to hand over their hostage without payment of a ransom.

Defense Minister Robert Hill said he had no information to support the mufti's claims.

Wood said he did not know his kidnappers' identities.

"I didn't know whether it was al-Qaida or who it was," he said. "I didn't know ... obviously, my head is intact, so it wasn't al-Qaida."