BAGHDAD, Iraq – An Egyptian truck driver held captive for two weeks by insurgents in Iraq was freed Monday, just hours after the Philippines (search) withdrew the last of its 51 peacekeepers in a bid to save the life of a Filipino man held by a different group.
Insurgents have kidnapped several foreigners working in Iraq in an effort to force out coalition forces and the foreign workers helping them.
Alsayeid Mohammed Alsayeid Algarabawi, whose capture was first reported July 6 in a video showing him surrounded by masked gunmen, was brought to the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad (search) on Monday evening. He appeared healthy.
Algarabawi said he was fed well, allowed to pray and treated in "an Islamic manner, 100 percent." He also apologized to his family for worrying them.
Upon hearing of his release, Algarabawi's wife, Laila, ululated in joy and his family burst into celebration.
"We are partying downstairs," his out-of-breath son, Essam, said from their home in the Nile Delta town of Zagazig, 40 miles northeast of Cairo.
Algarabawi's captors, who called themselves the Iraqi Legitimate Resistance (search), never threatened to harm him but made a series of demands on his Saudi company, including asking for $1 million ransom and insisting it stop doing business in Iraq (search).
The Al-Jarie Transport company refused to pay the ransom but agreed to end its business in Iraq, said Faisal al-Naheet, a subcontractor speaking on behalf of the firm.
As Algarabawi walked free, Philippine officials waited for word on the fate of truck driver Angelo dela Cruz. Kidnappers holding dela Cruz demanded the Manila government pull its 51 peacekeepers from Iraq earlier than their scheduled Aug. 20 departure or else they would kill him.
The government complied in phases, with the last soldiers driving into neighboring Kuwait at about 5 p.m. Monday. The troops smiled and waved as they drove away.
"Bye, bye!" one yelled out the window.
Earlier, the troops made an "exit call" on the Polish commander at their base in Hillah, south of Baghdad, and lowered the Philippine flag at their quarters.
"We have fulfilled our commitment, and so it's their turn to fulfill their promise. We are waiting," a Philippine official said on condition of anonymity.
Manila's decision to withdraw soldiers early was criticized by some coalition members, including the United States and Australia, who argued that capitulating to kidnappers endangered other troops here.
"We are very disappointed that governments choose to withdraw their troops because all this does is confirm (to) the terrorists that terrorism works," said Rend al-Rahim Francke, the head of Iraq's diplomatic mission in the United States.
Dela Cruz's family in the northern Philippine province of Pampanga was overjoyed at the withdrawal and urged the kidnappers to free him.
"I'm happy because they have pulled out and my son could now be freed. That would be a consolation for me and my villagemates because we have been losing sleep," dela Cruz's father, Feliciano, told Associated Press Television News.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit thanked all those who worked for Algarabawi's release.
"We hope this is the end of such regrettable events that innocent civilians are subjected to," he said.
In response to the kidnapping, Egypt advised its citizens to stop seeking work in Iraq. Algarabawi said his captors were "sending a message to any Arab driver who comes to Iraq."
He said he was initially treated roughly but his situation improved over time.
"The threats, like the pushing ... and the raising of weapons, was during the first days," he told APTN.
Algarabawi also denied the militants' claim he was transporting cargo for U.S. forces in Iraq.
"I was hauling diesel from the Arab Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and was headed to Iraq to offload at storage terminals in Latifiya, for our brothers, the Iraqis," he told APTN. "We did not have Americans with us. I didn't even see Americans. The security who was with me was Iraqi, 100 percent."