Website claims second US hostage killed in Iraq
An Islamic website has claimed that militants killed a second American hostage in Iraq and has threatened that a Briton kidnapped with him will also die if his government does not act.
A decapitated body was handed over to American authorities in Baghdad on Wednesday, the United States embassy said, adding its identity was not immediately known. The Iraqi Interior Ministry had said earlier on Wednesday a decapitated body had been found along with the head in a black plastic bag in Baghdad.
The posting, the second on the web to refer to the purported killing, did not say what the British government should do or give a deadline. But earlier statements from Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad, the group believed to have kidnapped the two Americans and the Briton, had demanded the release of women in US and British custody in Iraq.
The posting appeared to be on Tawhid and Jihad’s own website, which had been disabled much of the last week but became accessible again late on Tuesday or early on Wednesday. The initial claim, which appeared on another website, signed with the pseudonym Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, had not mentioned the Briton.
Al-Iraqi’s postings about Tawhid and Jihad activities have in the past proved correct, but a video of the killing by Tawhid and Jihad that Al-Iraqi’s posting said would be released “soon” had not materialised by early on Wednesday. The later posting on the Tawhid and Jihad site also said a video would appear soon.
Tawhid and Jihad—Arabic for “Monotheism and Holy War”—has claimed responsibility for the slaying of at least six hostages in the past.
In addition to kidnappings, the group is linked to suicide car bombings and coordinated gun attacks against US-led coalition forces, Iraqi security and politicians and Iraqi Shi’ites—al-Zarqawi is believed to be trying to foment Sunni-Shi’ite violence to make Iraq even more volatile and harder to govern.
American engineer Eugene Armstrong (52) was the first of three men abducted on Thursday to be killed, apparently on Monday. Footage of his beheading was posted on Islamic websites within an hour of an al-Iraqi statement promising it. Armstrong’s body was found in Baghdad hours before news of his beheading became public on Monday.
American Jack Hensley, who would have been 49 on Wednesday, and Briton Kenneth Bigley (62) were kidnapped with Armstrong. The brief statement on the Tawhid and Jihad site did not identify the latest victim by name, but indicated it was Hensley.
“The lions of Tawhid and Jihad carried out the slaughter of the second American prisoner before the end of the specific deadline,” the statement said. Earlier statements had given the Americans 24 hours, ending on Wednesday, to release women prisoners.
“The British prisoner will meet the same fate if the British government does not carry out what it should do for his release,” it said, adding US President George Bush would die in “rage” and British Prime Minister Tony Blair would “cry blood”.
On Wednesday morning—hours after the claim of the second beheading—the Iraqi Justice Ministry said the government and US forces had decided a female prisoner in American custody, Rihab Rashid, would be released on bail. The ministry denied the decision was linked to the kidnappers’ demands.
But on Wednesday afternoon, the US embassy said the two high-profile women prisoners in American custody will not be released immediately. The US military says the only women in its custody in Iraq are Taha, a scientist dubbed “Dr Germ” for her work on biological weapons, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, a biotech researcher known as “Mrs Anthrax”.
Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abdul-Jabbar, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars—conservative Iraqi clerics who oppose the US presence in Iraq but have interceded in the past to win the release of foreign hostages—questioned the claim of only two female prisoners in US and British custody.
Abdul-Jabbar told al-Jazeera pan-Arab satellite television there are “tens, perhaps hundreds of Iraqi women prisoners in the occupation’s jail that were supposed to be released before this tragedy”.
In Britain, the family of hostage Bigley welcomed the woman’s release. Referring to the kidnappers, Bigley’s brother Paul told BBC radio: “Hopefully they will pick this up on the media, and show that they have a gram of decency in them by releasing Ken.”
Britain’s Foreign Office has said Britain will not give in to the kidnappers. In an appear on Arabic television stations earlier this week, Foreign Office official Dean McLoughlin, speaking in Arabic, said Britain does not hold any female prisoners in Iraq.
Hensley, who is married and has a 13-year-old daughter, Sara, is from the US state of Georgia. His wife appeared on television on Tuesday in the US, asking her husband be spared.
“My daughter would like her father back and I’m willing to do whatever it will take to get him here,” Patricia Hensley said on the ABC network’s Good Morning America programme.
All three construction contractors worked for General Supplies and Commercial Services, based in the United Arab Emirates.—Sapa-AP