The brother of an Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at former US President George Bush in a stunning act of protest that made him a hero around the Arab world said the journalist has been released from a Baghdad prison.
Uday al-Zeidi said his brother, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, left an Iraqi army base where the jail is located today, accompanied by several members of parliament.
Al-Zeidi, a little-known reporter for a small Iraqi TV station, gained instant hero status in the Arab world last December when he hurled his shoes at Mr Bush as he stood next to Iraq’s prime minister at a Baghdad news conference.
The reporter spent nine months in jail. He was due to be freed yesterday, but his release was postponed because of delays in processing paperwork.
Uday al-Zeidi was waiting for his brother with other relatives outside the family's home in central Baghdad.
Celebrations erupted outside, with women crying out and performing traditional Iraqi dances.
“I congratulate the Iraqi people and the Muslim world and all free men across the world on the release of Muntadhar,” Mr al-Zeidi told a crowd of dozens of journalists.
“Every time Bush turns a new page in his life he will find Muntadhar’s shoes waiting for him.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was deeply embarrassed by the act of protest.
He was standing beside Mr Bush at a December 14 news conference when the reporter suddenly shot up from his chair and hurled his shoes toward the podium. The then US President was unhurt but had to duck twice to avoid being hit.
Al-Zeidi’s brother said the reporter would travel to Greece on Thursday for medical check-ups and because he had concerns about his safety.
“He fears for his life,” he said, adding that he would sleep at an undisclosed location tonight.
He also repeated the family’s claims that the journalist was mistreated while in Iraqi custody.
Al-Zeidi’s protest stirred millions across the Arab world who have been captivated and angered by images of destruction and grieving since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“This is your farewell kiss, you dog!” he shouted at Mr Bush in Arabic as he hurled the shoes. “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq,” he continued.
For days, the scene was played endlessly on regional and international TV channels.