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U.S. troops rescue American hostage held in Iraq for 10 months

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Susan Hallums heard a tired but sweetly familiar voice in a surprise phone call early Wednesday morning telling her that her family ordeal was over.

The call came from her ex-husband, Roy Hallums, who said that U.S. troops had freed him 10 months after he was kidnapped in Iraq.

U.S. military officials said they rescued Hallums, 57, and an Iraqi hostage at about 11:20 a.m. Wednesday from a farmhouse 15 miles south of Baghdad. An Iraqi detainee gave them a tip that morning, said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a military spokesman.

"Sorry I'm late for dinner," Hallums told his ex-wife.

Hallums was referring to the Thanksgiving dinner he was supposed to attend nearly a year ago. He had bought a plane ticket to fly home last Nov. 20. But he was captured Nov. 1 and has been held ever since.

The only public word of his fate came in January when the hostage-takers released a videotape of him pleading for help, with a high-powered gun pointed at his head.

"I always had a sense that he was alive and that I would get a call like this," said Susan Hallums, in a telephone interview. Despite their divorce two years ago after 30 years of marriage, the two remained friendly, and Susan Hallums had dedicated nearly all her time trying to secure his release.

The U.S. military said Hallums is in good health and that no one was injured during the rescue. It didn't release any other details.

U.S. officials lauded the intelligence gathering that led to the rescue.

The tip "was good enough to create a very fast operation before he was potentially moved," Boylan said. "Part of the interrogation process is building a rapport with the detainee."

Susan Hallums, of Corona, Calif., said the couple's two daughters were often too distraught to lead the search. So she spent 12 hours a day in her home office doing anything she could think of to secure his release. She hung two signs in the office. One read "Miracles are possible if you believe." The other said "Faith will see you through."

She made fliers, held candlelight vigils, gave interviews and scoured Web sites for information about her ex-husband's whereabouts. According to the family Web site, she planned to sell a home her mother had left her to fund a $40,000 reward offer.

The family also made "Free Roy" bumper stickers and magnets and asked for donations for the reward fund.

On the Web site, Hallums' daughter Carrie Cooper wrote that she didn't know her father was in Baghdad until he was captured. She thought he was working in Saudi Arabia.

Hallums was working for Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Co., providing food to Iraqi soldiers, when at least 20 gunmen stormed the company house in the upscale Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour. The gunmen killed one guard before driving off with Hallums, a Filipino and a Nepalese colleague, and three Iraqis.

Everyone captured that day was eventually released, except Hallums. Most recently, the hostage-takers released Filipino Robert Tarongoy in June.

The identity of the Iraqi captive freed on Wednesday wasn't released. Kidnappings for ransom have become widespread in Iraq.

In the January tape, Hallums rubbed his hands as he talked about working for American forces. He asked to be released to avoid a "definite death."

Hallums also pleaded with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to help him, so his ex-wife wrote Gadhafi two letters.

During their half-hour call Wednesday morning, Hallums told his ex-wife that he ate sardines—a food he didn't like—to survive. He'd lost a lot of weight, perhaps 30 pounds, he said.

At Susan Hallums' home, the family gathered and began celebrating. She promised to meet him wherever he's released. He made a promise, too.

"He said: `I am never leaving home again.'"

In other news, in Basra, four American private security contractors were killed when a roadside bomb detonated on a highway leading to the airport. The deaths came a day after two British soldiers were also killed in Basra by a roadside bomb, raising fears of a growing insurgency in the southern city.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Alaa Al Baldawy contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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