Tue, Mar 17, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Iraqi soldiers and siblings granted asylum in Australia

AP , CANBERRA

Two Iraqi soldiers who helped rescue a kidnapped Australian in 2005 have been granted asylum in Australia because their lives were at risk at home, officials said yesterday.

Douglas Wood was working as a privately contracted engineer in Baghdad when he was seized and held for 47 days before US and Iraqi troops freed him in a gun battle with his captors.

Last month, Wood wrote an open letter to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, claiming that seven of the 10 Iraqi soldiers who helped free him have been murdered by terrorists as retribution for the rescue and for court testimony against some of the kidnappers.

A refugee lawyer and the government said yesterday that two of the soldiers and two siblings of one of them have been resettled in Australia.

“There were genuine fears for the safety of these two soldiers because of the role they played in Mr Wood’s rescue,” Immigration Minister Chris Evans said in a statement.

The soldiers’ names have not been released for fear they could also face persecution in Australia.

The third survivor, Brigadier General Mohammed al-Samarae, resettled in the US after being refused a visa to come to Australia six times, Wood said in his letter.

David Mann, a lawyer for the two men, said they had been in danger because they testified against Wood’s kidnappers.

“The evidence powerfully indicates that there had been a calculated and concerted campaign of terror against those who rescued Douglas Wood by al-Qaeda extremists,” Mann said.

Evans said government officials met with Wood on Feb. 24 and decided to fast-track the men’s applications.

Wood did not return a telephone call yesterday.

Last year, Australia resettled about 400 Iraqis and their relatives who were at risk for helping Australian troops and diplomats in their troubled homeland.

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