Filipino Hostage Tells His Story

Filipino Angelo dela Cruz, who had been held hostage in Iraq enters the Philippines embassy after he had earlier been handed over to the United Arab Emirates embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday July 20, 2004. The hostage drama that has gripped the Philippines for two weeks came to a happy ending Tuesday when insurgents in Iraq freed a Filipino truck driver who has become a national icon at home.
Death came far too close for Filipino hostage Angelo dela Cruz, who says Iraqi insurgents at one point sharpened a sword and probed his neck for the right spot to cut.

But his fate changed dramatically when his captors learned that Filipino troops would withdraw from Iraq to meet their demand and the kidnappers agreed to let him go, according to statements the 46-year-old truck driver gave to Philippine officials and friends after he was freed in Baghdad on Tuesday.

The officials and others spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Dela Cruz has publicly said he was treated well during his terror-filled two-week captivity.

"They did not harm me and I'm relieved that I survived. I really thought my time had come," dela Cruz told a Filipino reporter in Manila.

Dela Cruz's nightmare began July 4 when Iraqi insurgents attacked the convoy of fuel trucks he was traveling in after it had crossed into Iraq from Saudi Arabia. The insurgents slapped him when he tried to resist. His Iraqi guard was shot dead, but 10 other Filipino drivers were rescued, officials said.

It was previously reported that he was kidnapped near Fallujah, a hotbed of anti-U.S. resistance, on July 7.

Dela Cruz, constantly guarded by six young insurgents clutching AK-47s and grenade launchers, was bound and stashed in the trunk of a car while being moved to at least four houses. From one, dela Cruz heard frequent rumbling from tanks and the drone of fighter jets overheard, an official said.

He did not see other captives, but was once detained in a room with dried bloodstains that appeared to have squirted on the floor, the official said. Dela Cruz once thought of escaping but changed his mind after realizing he would just be lost.

"He had many sleepless nights," the official said. "He was always preoccupied with his potential execution and wondered if that would be done with the use of a sword or a gun. He hoped it would be the latter because it seemed much less painful."

In one of the most critical moments, a kidnapper embraced him, saying: "I love you, I love you but I have to do this," the official said. His abductors sharpened a sword in front of him and examined his neck, apparently looking for the right place to cut.

His captors, identified as the Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps, had threatened to behead dela Cruz unless a tiny Philippine peacekeeping contingent was recalled from Iraq by the end of July - a month ahead of schedule. At one point, the insurgents told him he had been brought to the place where he would be killed.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo initially hesitated. But on July 13, Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis went on television to announce the pullout.

When the insurgents saw the government was serious, they cheered and told dela Cruz: "Allah wants you to live," then embraced him, according to the official.

On Monday, they monitored news reports on the last Filipino troops crossing the border from Iraq into Kuwait and told dela Cruz he would be freed Tuesday, the official said.

He was even given fare money and told that he would be dropped off somewhere in Baghdad.

"We'll still see you on TV but you'll never see us again," the insurgents told dela Cruz, according to the official.

Dela Cruz was taken to the United Arab Emirates Embassy in the Iraqi capital and from there, he was fetched by Philippine diplomats, ending a diplomatic firestorm and national vigil that upset close ties between Manila and Washington but brought dela Cruz home alive.

By Jim Gomez