- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

BAGHDAD — A posting on an Islamic Web site claimed yesterday that the al Qaeda-linked group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi has slain a U.S. hostage in Iraq, just 24 hours after grisly video showed the terror mastermind beheading another American captive.

The posting was followed about two hours later by a claim on a different Web site threatening to kill a third hostage, a British man, if female prisoners in Iraq are not freed.

Neither claim could immediately be verified.

Zarqawi’s group, Tawhid and Jihad, kidnapped two Americans — Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong — and Briton Kenneth Bigley on Thursday from a home that the three civil engineers shared in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood. Zarqawi beheaded Mr. Armstrong, and the terrorists on Monday posted a gruesome video of the 52-year-old man’s death.

The new posting followed the passing of the militants’ 24-hour deadline for the release of all Iraqi women from U.S. custody, and after anguished relatives in the United States and Britain begged for the lives of Mr. Bigley, 62, and Mr. Hensley, who would have marked his 49th birthday today.

“The nation’s zealous sons slaughtered the second American hostage after the end of the deadline,” the statement said. It was signed with the pseudonym Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the name usually used on statements from Zarqawi’s group.

Tawhid and Jihad — Arabic for “Monotheism and Holy War” — has claimed responsibility for killing at least seven hostages, including another American, Nicholas Berg, who was abducted in April. The group also has said it is behind a number of bombings and gun attacks.

The new posting came hours after President Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq in an address to the U.N. General Assembly. He told Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, “We will not allow these thugs and terrorists to decide your fate and to decide our fate.”

Zarqawi, standing alongside four other masked militants clad in black, personally cut off Mr. Armstrong’s head, the CIA confirmed after analyzing his voice on the footage.

[The statement read out on the video of Mr. Armstrong’s killing ridiculed Mr. Bush and promised Iraqi women that their honor would be protected.

[“Oh, you Christian dog Bush, stop your arrogance. The mujahideen will give America a taste of the degradation you have inflicted on the Iraqi people,” Reuters news agency translated the statement as saying.]

Mr. Armstrong’s body was discovered Monday only blocks from where he lived, officials and witnesses said.

Meanwhile, the violence elsewhere continued unabated. A car bomb wounded four U.S. soldiers on the road to Baghdad’s airport yesterday and two Marines were reported killed in earlier attacks west of the capital, underscoring the inability of American forces to control key parts of Iraq 17 months after starting operations here.

Early today, U.S. aircraft and tanks attacked rebel positions as fierce fighting erupted in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, a stronghold of fighters loyal to radical Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr.

The fighting, which included strikes by U.S. warplanes and Apache gunships, came as U.S. and Iraqi troops searched the zone for rebel weapons.

Also yesterday, the Turkish VINSAN construction company announced it was bowing to the demands of militants and halting operations in Iraq in a bid to save the lives of 10 kidnapped Turkish employees.

Another Turkish hostage, seized Aug. 5, was released after his company, Atahan Lojistik International, withdrew from Iraq, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Tahsin Top’s abductors also had demanded a $45,000 ransom. It was not clear if money was paid.

But Turkish state TRT television reported the body of another Turk, identified as Akar Besir, was found early yesterday near the northern city of Mosul. The station said Mr. Besir was a driver for a firm working for the U.S. military and was kidnapped Saturday.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Hensley’s family in Georgia appealed to his captors to open lines of communication with them and spare his life.

“He was just there doing a service for the Iraqi people — including even his captors,” Mr. Hensley’s wife, Pati, told CNN. “I would plead with them to please realize this man does not deserve this fate.”

Mr. Bigley’s family echoed her pleas.

“We are begging you not to kill them,” said Mr. Bigley’s brother, Philip. “We are begging you to find a solution, a compromise, that will help to save two lives, innocent lives.”

In a video posted Saturday, Tawhid and Jihad had threatened to kill the three men unless Iraqi women were released from two U.S.-controlled prisons, Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr.

The U.S. military says women are not held at either facility but has acknowledged it is holding two female “security prisoners” elsewhere.

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