AN Australian man shot dead in Baghdad was well aware of the risks of working as a private security guard in Iraq, all of whom carry a $50,000 bounty on their heads, his stepmother said yesterday.
Chris Ahmelman, 34, and two colleagues from Canada and the US were ambushed by insurgents on their way to Baghdad airport on Wednesday. He was the fourth Australian to die in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
The attack came ahead of a missile strike on a civilian Bulgarian helicopter, in which at least nine people died, and the discovery of 60 bodies of possibly Shi'ite hostages in the Tigris River.
Mr Ahmelman had been in Iraq for a month working as a private security contractor for British firm Edinburgh Risk and Security Management.
He previously had served in the Australian army from 1986-96 and served later as a reservist before becoming a private security guard.
Mr Ahmelman's stepmother Janet Ahmelman said he had been well aware of the risks of working in Iraq.
"He used to be in the army and half his mates are over there working as security guards – they're making a fortune out of it," she said.
"He knew there was a bounty for every security guard of $50,000 . . . he knew what he was getting into."
Another Australian working in Iraq for security company AKE Asia Pacific said yesterday Iraq was descending into more indiscriminate violence after a period of relative calm.
"It appears that it's now picking up again . . . it's quite dangerous here," the contractor, identified only as Rodge, told ABC Radio.
"I would say that things are becoming more unstable here on the ground and every day you can just see people are a little more scared."
Rodge said the stretch of road between Baghdad and the international airport was particularly dangerous.
"I think because it's a main artery for all foreigners coming in and out of the country," he said.
"That road is essentially pretty much the only way you can get into the country."
Mrs Ahmelman said she and her husband Allan, Chris's father, had last spoken to him about six weeks ago and had not known when he intended to return to Australia.
Mr Ahmelman had lived in NSW for much of his life but moved to Queensland "about two years ago", she said.
Mr Ahmelman's father was distraught after being told of his death, she said.
"We tried to talk (about Chris's death) last night but he just kept on crying," she said.
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