- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 6, 2004

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — A group of armed masked men yesterday threatened to kill Jordanian militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, saying that he was murdering innocent Iraqis and defiling Islam.

Zarqawi is the prime suspect behind a wave of suicide bomb attacks, beheadings and other brutal acts, including a car bomb yesterday that killed 14 persons who were attending a wake for the victims of a previous attack.

In a videotape sent to Al Arabiya television, the previously unknown group, which called itself the Salvation Movement, ordered Zarqawi to leave the country immediately and questioned how he could justify the killing of innocent civilians and his threats to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. The threat was initially reported by the Associated Press.

The car bomb in the town of Khalis underscored the insurgents’ determination to carry out attacks a week after the United States transferred power to an interim government led by Mr. Allawi.

The bomb tore through a tent packed with hundreds of Iraqis mourning a man killed in an assassination attempt on a local official by insurgents days earlier.

The blast left a yardwide crater, set five cars on fire and burned the tent. Dismembered corpses lay on the floor. White plastic chairs where mourners had been sitting in orderly rows were broken and twisted.

Elsewhere, seven U.S. Marines assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were killed in western Iraq, the military said. Two died in action Monday, while a third died of his wounds Monday. Four other Marines were killed yesterday while conducting security and stability operations.

Mr. Allawi — a longtime CIA ally with ties to former military chiefs from Saddam Hussein’s regime — has said security is his top priority, and his government is expected today to announce a new law that will expand security forces’ powers and allow the imposition of curfews.

Commenting on the threat to kill Zarqawi, a U.S. intelligence official in Washington said it is not known how large or effective the group was, or whether it had any means to carry out the threat.

“This is not a group we have heard of before,” the official said.

“What is noteworthy is that a group is coming forward and threatening Zarqawi, instead of him threatening other people. It appears to be an indigenous group that reflects the anti-Zarqawi sentiment in Iraq.”

Former U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer told The Washington Times in an interview last week he looked for Iraqis to increasingly turn against the insurgents after the transfer of authority to a sovereign Iraqi government.

In the video yesterday, three men with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons, flanked by an Iraqi flag, delivered the threats. The man speaking had a clear Iraqi accent.

“We have started preparing … to capture [Zarqawi] and his allies or kill them and present them as gift to our people,” said one of the men, whose faces were covered with Arab head scarves.

“This is the last ultimatum to those who give him shelter. This is the last warning. If you don’t stop, we will do to you what the coalition forces have failed to do.”

By issuing its threat on a tape released to the satellite channel Al Arabiya, the group has copied the tactics of Zarqawi himself, who has repeatedly used that network and the Al Jazeera channel to publicize its terrorist attacks.

Zarqawi, said to be connected to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network, is suspected in coordinated attacks on police and security forces that killed 100 persons only days before U.S. forces handed over sovereignty to an Iraqi government.

His followers also have claimed responsibility for the beheading of American businessman Nicholas Berg and South Korean translator Kim Sun-il.

Several of the Zarqawi group’s most dramatic bombings were recorded on a videotape that was given to the Time magazine bureau in Baghdad and widely distributed early this week.

Yesterday’s bombing occurred during a wake attended by hundreds in Khalis, north of Baghdad. They were mourning the victims of a gun attack that killed two persons and wounded two others on Sunday at a building belonging to a city council official.

The governor of Diyala province, Abdullah al-Juburi, had just left the wake when the blast went off. Guerrillas have been targeting local officials and police throughout Iraq because they are seen as collaborators with Americans.

Also yesterday, the family of a Lebanese-born U.S. Marine held hostage in Iraq said in Tripoli, Lebanon, that it was confident that Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun had been freed and was well, although relatives have not heard directly from him.

“We have received reliable information the guy is free,” said his brother, Sami.

Cpl. Hassoun, 24, had been serving as a translator with the U.S. Marines in Iraq when he disappeared June 20.

In the town of Latifiya, 25 miles south of Baghdad, two police officers were seriously injured yesterday when gunmen opened fire on their patrol car before fleeing, said police Lt. Hazim Abdul-Kadhim.

In Baghdad, the U.S. military said troops had fired on a car that failed to heed warnings to stop at a checkpoint, killing one child and wounding another.

Staff writer Bill Gertz in Washington contributed to this report.

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