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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May, 2005, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Australia urges hostage release
Man identified as Australian Douglas Wood on the tape
Mr Wood is said to have a serious heart condition
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has appealed for the release of an engineer held hostage by militants in Iraq, citing his poor health.

Mr Downer made the plea in an interview for the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera, saying that Douglas Wood, 63, wanted to be reunited with his family.

It came as an emergency team of officials and police from Canberra arrived in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Mr Wood's brothers later released their own appeal to his captors.

"We are extremely concerned for Douglas's welfare. He is not a well man, with several medical problems needing constant care," said his younger brother Malcolm in a tape released to al-Jazeera.

"He has a serious heart condition. In his current stressed environment, without medication, his health could fail him altogether," he added, as another brother, Vernon, stood beside him.

'Not a well man'

Mr Downer, who also said Mr Wood had a problem with one of his eyes, earlier said in his appeal that Australia was making a "very big effort" to get him out alive.

Please take the American troops, the Australian troops, the British troops out of here and let Iraq look after itself
Douglas Wood plea

"We would appeal to the people who have taken him hostage to release him and not to involve a man who is just providing assistance to the Iraqi people ... in politics," he said.

Pictured sitting on the floor flanked by two armed men, the hostage is heard, on a tape released to journalists on Sunday, to call for US, British and Australian forces to withdraw from Iraq.

Mr Wood's wife, Pearl, has said she is sure the man featured is her husband.

A sign on the tape gives the name of a militant organisation, the Shura Council of the Mujahideen of Iraq, which has claimed previous attacks on US and Iraqi troops.

The man on the tape is heard saying: "Please help me. I don't want to die."

Prime Minister John Howard has ruled out talks with Mr Wood's captors.

Malcolm Wood, left, and his brother Vernon appear on television in an appeal for the release of their elder brother, Douglas, 04/05/2005
His brothers said Douglas wanted to help local communities
Mr Wood, who was working as an engineer in Iraq, said in an interview last year that he favoured a "low-key" approach to security.

"If I don't look like I'm a bloody thug or protected by a super convoy, I'm less likely to be apprehended," he said.

Australia has about 950 troops stationed in and around Iraq. It is in the process of sending another 450 troops there.

Mr Wood is the first Australian contractor to be kidnapped in the Gulf since the insurgency began.

Last October Australian journalist John Martinkus was kidnapped in Baghdad.

He was released unharmed a short time later, once it was established he was not working for a US company.


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