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Former hostage speaks to family

Published: 10:22PM Wednesday December 07, 2005 Source: AAP

As former Australian hostage Douglas Wood sat down to tea and biscuits with an Islamic leader in a quiet Queanbeyan motel, across the Tasman another family was living the Iraq kidnap nightmare, waiting for news of their hostage son.

Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, a Canadian, who lives in Auckland, was abducted by militants late last month with three fellow aid workers, all members of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

His mother has taped an appeal for his release, which was broadcast on al-Jazeera on Tuesday.

Wood said on Wednesday he had spoken to Sooden's family four times, and he offered them whatever insight he could.

"Just be strong, have courage, involve the Islamic community, get yourselves involved, talk in Arabic, al Jazeera, write articles to local papers, anything to get the populace on your side to break the will of the bad guys," was the advice Wood said he passed on.

The 64-year-old says he believes pictures of him with his grandson released by his family, touched the hearts of local Iraqis and persuaded them he should be released.

"Families can help by getting through to the heart of the average Iraqi," he said.

Getting through to the captors can be much harder, he said.

"There's very little you can do if they don't want to listen at the other end."

Wood was freed by Iraqi and American soldiers on June 15 after being held hostage in Baghdad for six weeks by a group calling itself the Shura Council of the Mujahideen of Iraq.

Wood on Wednesday met with Ikebal Patel, treasurer of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, to thank him for working to secure his release.

Wood's brother and sister-in-law Malcolm and Ruth Wood were also there to thank Patel, who contacted the Wood family in the days following Douglas's capture and organised Sheikh Taj Aldin Alhilali's mission to Iraq.

Malcolm Wood revealed the family had donated a five-figure sum to an international charity operating in Iraq, following his brother's rescue.

The money was offered by the family while Douglas was still a hostage, as an incentive for his release.

At the time, the family denied it was a ransom. Malcolm Wood won't tell other families how they should handle a ransom demand.

"Different families have got to make up their own mind on that," he said.

"It's a very difficult issue, a loved one is captive and you're led to believe that money may secure their release.

"We chose not to pay a ransom, I'm not in a position to say that other people shouldn't do that.

"As you can imagine, it's an agonising matter for any family."

But his brother had stronger views. "You can't afford to give in to terrorists," Douglas Wood said.

"The moment one gives a ransom, that becomes a bait ... I wouldn't condone a ransom at all," he said.