- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

BAGHDAD — A video posted yesterday on an al Qaeda-linked Web site showed the beheading of an American civilian in Iraq in what was said to be revenge for abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

The video showed five men in head scarves and black ski masks standing over a bound man in an orange jumpsuit similar to a prisoner’s uniform. The man identified himself as Nick Berg, a U.S. civilian whose body was found Saturday near a highway overpass in Baghdad.

“My name is Nick Berg, my father’s name is Michael, my mother’s name is Suzanne,” the man said on the video. “I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in … Philadelphia.”

After reading a statement, the men were seen pulling the bound man to his side and putting a large knife to his neck. A scream sounded as the men cut off his head, shouting “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.” They held the head up to the camera.

The tape was titled “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American.” It was not clear whether Zarqawi — an associate of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — was one of the hooded men or was simply claiming responsibility for ordering the execution.

Zarqawi also is said to have ties to terrorist groups ranging from Ansar al Islam in Iraq to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He is thought to be behind many attacks in Iraq, including numerous high-profile operations.

Mr. Berg’s family members said yesterday that they knew he had been decapitated, but didn’t know details. When told of the video, father Michael and Mr. Berg’s two siblings hugged and cried.

“I knew he was decapitated before. That manner is preferable to a long and torturous death. But I didn’t want it to become public,” Michael Berg said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, traveling with President Bush in Arkansas.

“It shows the true nature of the enemies of freedom. They have no regard for the lives of innocent men, women and children. We will pursue those who are responsible and bring them to justice.”

Because Mr. Berg was a U.S. citizen, the FBI has jurisdiction to investigate the case as a criminal matter. A senior law-enforcement official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the FBI probably would get involved so long as adequate security is provided by the military for investigators to do their work.

On the Web site, one of the executioners read a statement:

“For the mothers and wives of American soldiers, we tell you that we offered the U.S. administration to exchange this hostage with some of the detainees in Abu Ghraib and they refused.

“So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins … slaughtered in this way.”

The Web site is known to be a clearinghouse for statements and tapes by al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups. An audiotape purportedly from bin Laden — which the CIA said probably was authentic — appeared on the site last week.

Western officials say Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmad Fadhil al-Khalayleh, is a lieutenant of bin Laden. The United States has offered $10 million for information leading to Zarqawi’s capture or killing, saying he is trying to build a network of foreign militants in Iraq to work for al Qaeda.

In the video, the speaker threatened President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

“As for you Bush … expect severe days. You and your soldiers will regret the day you stepped into the land of Iraq.” The speaker described Gen. Musharraf as “a traitor agent.”

The slaying recalled the kidnapping and videotaped beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 in Pakistan. Four Islamist militants have been convicted of kidnapping Mr. Pearl, but seven suspects — including those who reportedly slit his throat — remain at large.

Another video of a man being beheaded appeared on the Internet around the time that an Italian hostage was murdered mid-April. Al Jazeera reported at the time that it had the video but had not broadcast it because it was too graphic.

Suzanne Berg, the mother of the 26-year-old Mr. Berg, of West Chester, Pa., said her son had been working in Iraq as an independent businessman to help rebuild communication antennas. He had been missing since April 9, she said.

“He had this idea that he could help rebuild the infrastructure,” she said.

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