Date registered: Sep 2004
Vehicle: 95 E300
Location: Inside my head
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Americans save British hostage no one knew was missing
Sunday January 15, 2006
A British man kidnapped in Iraq and held for five days by armed men who threatened to behead him was rescued last week by American special forces and astonished to discover that no one had noticed he was missing.
Phil Sands, 28, a freelance journalist, was held by gunmen who ambushed his car in Baghdad. He said the worst aspect of his ordeal was imagining the anguish of his family. But his parents were holidaying in Morocco and knew nothing of his sufferings until he called them after he was released during a chance raid by US forces on a farm outside Baghdad.
The rescue was a rare slice of good fortune in Iraq, where yesterday Rizgar Amin, chief judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein, quit in protest at pressure from the Iraqi government on his court, which has already seen two defence lawyers murdered and witnesses threatened.
For Sands, the escape came after he had surrendered all hope. 'I thought with absolute certainty, "I'm dead - it's now just a matter of the technical details,"' he told The Observer. 'I was strangely calm - there was no point in panicking.'
One of Sands's captors told him, in Arabic, that if he was a soldier, or helping the occupation, he would be beheaded. He was made to record a video urging the British people to remove Tony Blair from office. The same thing had happened to Ken Bigley, the hostage from Liverpool executed in Iraq in 2004.
But the US army, on a routine mission, came to the rescue. He recalled: 'I was in bed and heard helicopters, which I assumed would move on. But then there were footsteps and a banging at the door. It burst open and two young American soldiers came in with flashlights. They woke up my guard and shone a torch in my face. One of them said, "What the fuck?" I said: "I'm a Brit, dammit."'
He said he was not treated badly by his Sunni captors, who were arrested in the raid. He believes his driver and interpreter were also rescued but is still seeking confirmation.
Sands, from Poole, Dorset, has been to Iraq 10 times since February 2003, sometimes for three-month spells. On Boxing Day, shortly after 9.30am, he was blindfolded, handcuffed and forced into the boot of a BMW by men with balaclavas and AK-47 automatic rifles. 'I just knew I was dead, that I wouldn't get out alive. I began to think of my parents in Britain, how they would have to watch this on the news and what it would do to them. I felt I could cope with whatever happened to me; it was what they would go through that was unbearable.'
Sands's parents, David and Jackie, were in a state of blissful ignorance throughout, as were the authorities. They spoke to their son on Christmas Day, then went on holiday. David said last night: 'We were fortunate that we didn't go through the nail-biting anxiety of knowing he was missing. I feel fairly philosophical about it, and so does my wife. He loves that place and I'm sure he'll be going back.'