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World - Reuters
Zarqawi Group Says Beheads One U.S. Hostage

3 minutes ago

By Ed Cropley

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A militant group headed by al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said on Monday it had beheaded an American hostage and posted a video of the killing on the Internet.

The video, on an Islamist site, identified the hostage as Eugene Armstrong and showed a masked man sawing his head off with a knife.

The video showed the banner of Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group, which said it had kidnapped the hostage along with another American and a Briton in central Baghdad last Thursday.

The video was the first word on the three men since a 48-hour execution deadline set by the group on Saturday expired earlier in the day.

Tawhid and Jihad said in footage posted on the Internet on Saturday it would kill the three men unless Iraqi women were freed from Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr jails in 48 hours.

The families of Americans Armstrong and Jack Hensley and Briton Kenneth Bigley have appealed for their release. The men were seized from their house in an upscale neighborhood of Baghdad on Thursday by a group of gunmen.

The U.S. military says no women are being held in the two prisons specified, but that two are in U.S. custody. Dubbed "Dr Germ" and "Mrs Anthrax" by U.S. forces, they are accused of working on Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s weapons programs and are in a prison for high-profile detainees.

Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group has claimed responsibility for most of the bloodiest suicide bomb attacks in Iraq (news - web sites) since the fall of Saddam. It has already beheaded several hostages, including U.S. telecoms engineer Nicholas Berg in May and South Korean driver Kim Sun-il in June.


The group released Filipino captive Angelo de la Cruz in July after Manila bowed to its demands to pull out troops.

The United States has offered $25 million for information leading to the death or capture of Zarqawi, a Jordanian, and has launched a series of air strikes on his suspected hideouts in the rebel-held town of Falluja, west of Baghdad.

The latest strike was on Monday afternoon, residents said. Doctors said at least two people were killed.

Another Islamist group freed 18 Iraqi soldiers it had threatened to kill, but more than a dozen other hostages are still facing death unless demands from their captors are met.

Two French journalists were seized a month ago, and two female Italian aid workers were kidnapped in broad daylight in central Baghdad earlier this month.

A statement purportedly from the group holding the French said at the weekend they were no longer captives but had agreed to stay with the group for some time to cover it. France said on Monday it was preparing for a long wait for their release.

Another group has threatened to kill 10 workers from a U.S.-Turkish firm unless their company stopped doing business in Iraq within three days. Most of the workers seized are believed to be Turkish.

On Sunday a guerrilla group said it had captured 18 Iraqi soldiers and would kill them unless authorities freed an aide to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Hazem al-Araji, within 48 hours. Araji was arrested on Saturday night by U.S.-backed forces, Sadr's supporters said.

The release of the Iraqi soldiers -- shown on a video given to Reuters -- followed an appeal by a Sadr aide, Ali Smeisim, for the hitherto unknown group, the Mohammad bin Abdullah Brigades, to free them.

The brief video showed the soldiers, dressed in white gowns and holding Korans to their chests, sitting in a room.

It was not immediately clear if Araji had been released.

One U.S. soldier was killed when guerrillas attacked a U.S. patrol north of Baghdad on Monday, the U.S. military said.

In the northern city of Mosul, a car rigged with explosives blew up killing all three inside the vehicle in what was probably a premature detonation of the bomb, police said.

In a separate incident in the same area, two Turkish journalists and two Turkish Red Crescent workers were wounded after gunmen opened fire on their vehicle, police said.

The Association of Muslim Scholars, an influential Sunni group, said two of its members were assassinated in separate incidents over the past 24 hours, raising concerns guerrillas were targeting clerics to try to spark sectarian war.

More than 300 Iraqis have been killed in a surge of violence over the past 10 days, casting doubt on whether elections can go ahead in January as scheduled.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi insisted on Sunday the polls would take place as planned. "We definitely are going to stick to the timetable of elections in January next year," Allawi said after talks in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites).

The U.S. military says it has launched a drive to regain control of rebel-held areas ahead of the elections.


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