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Sweden reveals secret Iraq hostage

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09:38 CEST+02:00
A Swedish man was kidnapped and held hostage in Iraq for more than two months before being released three weeks ago, Sweden's foreign ministry said Tuesday in the first public news of the abduction.

The man, named in the Swedish media as 63-year-old Ulf Hjertström, told a newspaper that he had been kidnapped in Baghdad on March 25 and had been held for ransom under dreadful conditions for 67 days before his May 30 release.

During his ordeal he was forced to watch other prisoners being killed and was subjected to mock executions himself, he said.

The foreign ministry confirmed a Swede had been kidnapped and released in Iraq, but refused to provide any further details.

In contrast to a long line of other high-profile kidnapping cases in the violence-plagued country, with constant media attention and widely publicized ransom demands, no news of the kidnapping or any ransom demand had leaked out in the media here before Tuesday's news that Hjertström had been released.

According to the Swedish daily Aftonbladet, it was weeks before his family and colleagues were even aware that Hjertström, who has lived in Iraq for the past 14 years, had disappeared.

"My employees that I had gone away for a while," he told the paper.

Once the foreign ministry realized the situation it informed his brother, who was sworn to secrecy.

The brother, whose name was not disclosed in the Aftonbladet article, said the kidnappers had requested 250,000 kronor in ransom, but he insisted he had never paid any money.

In an interview with the Swedish news agency TT, Hjertström described his ordeal in captivity.

"They talked about how I was an enemy of the country and other bullshit like that, but I knew right away what this was about. Money and nothing else," he said.

He said his captors had killed a number of other prisoners before his eyes and that they on several occasions subjected him to mock executions.

"They tied my hands to hooks on the wall and then they took off my blindfold so I could see. Then they took out a gun and screwed on a silencer and then they shot. The bullet passed just a few millimeters (a tenth of an inch) from my ear," Hjertström said.

The Swede said he had been held in a cell with an Australian hostage who was not doing well.

"I had to try to cheer him up, since I realized that that was the only way he would survive," he said.

There was no indication whether the Australian hostage was Douglas Wood, a 63-year-old engineering contractor freed last week after 47 days in captivity in Iraq.

AFP

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