- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

LONDON — U.S. forces over the weekend entered the hard-line Islamist stronghold of Latifiya in search of the terrorist group that killed two American contractors and last week beheaded their colleague, British engineer Kenneth Bigley.

Residents of the town 25 miles south of Baghdad said yesterday that Mr. Bigley’s body and his severed head had been discovered alongside a stream in the area, but there was no announcement from authorities.

Officials of a U.S.-based news organization, meanwhile, confirmed that a reporter working for them had been kidnapped in the Baghdad district of Sadr City along with his driver.

The chief executive of the news organization said the driver had been released, but asked The Times to withhold the name of the hostage and his employer while efforts were being made to locate him or his captors.

In Latifiya, U.S. forces found few if any residents willing to provide information.

U.S. investigators arrived a few hours after the kidnappers phoned a police station in a nearby town Saturday to tell them where Mr. Bigley’s body had been dumped, according to an Iraqi reporter who was in the town.

The Washington Times was given a written and verbal account identifying Latifiya as the location for the kidnappers and their victims 10 days ago and passed the information on to a relevant security agency.

The information came from a respected Iraqi reporter who had been in Latifiya that day and had spoken to sources there he considered very close to the kidnappers. The same Iraqi reporter returned to Latifiya yesterday.

“I was passed from one figure to another until I reached a man who called himself Abu Yakub — clearly not his real name,” said the reporter, who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals.

“He was wearing a white dishdasha and had a very long beard. He told me that he was part of the small group of men who had held Bigley captive.

“He said they had decided to kill Bigley after the Americans arrested one of their most respected sheiks, Salah Al-Janabi. ‘We did it for revenge,’ he told me. ‘Bigley never escaped — we had guards on him all the time.’”

That contradicted a report yesterday in the London Sunday Times, which said Mr. Bigley briefly escaped by car on Wednesday after British intelligence helped bribe two of the captors, only to be recaptured within minutes and killed the next day.

According to the journalist’s information, the hostages were held next to a metal factory in the small village of al Janabad, just to the south of Latifiya.

The kidnappers had publicly demanded the release of Iraqi women from coalition prisons, drawing attention to two former Saddam-regime scientists who the Americans say are the only women in their custody.

But the man who identified himself as Abu Yakub expressed no interest in the two women, saying, “If we had got hold of these women, we would have killed them, too. They were part of the evil Saddam Hussein’s regime, and we hate them almost as much as we hate Westerners.

“We wanted the women of true Muslims who the Americans had taken away from their homes in Fallujah and other Muslim cities.”

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