- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

BAGHDAD — The hottest selling item at Baghdad’s video CD market is not a movie or a music video: It’s a video of an Egyptian hostage whose beheading was filmed by his captors and distributed as a warning to anyone who cooperates with U.S. troops.

“The CD is in big demand. We sell about 300 to 400 clips a week,” said Abu Muhammad, a shop owner who said he didn’t have the stomach to watch the decapitation.

“We have all kinds of customers, both old and young.”

The video shows a terrified Muhammad Abdel Aal kneeling in front of masked militants with AK-47 assault rifles as he confesses to planting electronic devices in houses that guided bombs dropped from U.S. warplanes.

One of the militants pulls out a knife, knocks down Mr. Abdel Aal, then severs his head and places it on the body over a pool of blood.

Such acts have been posted on radical Islamic Web sites carrying footage of several executions since militant groups and guerrillas began a wave of kidnappings of foreigners in April.

It now appears that hostage-takers also are spreading chilling warnings to bustling Baghdad street markets and shops, where the CD of Mr. Abdel Aal sells for the equivalent of 70 U.S. cents.

Several shopkeepers said the CD of the Egyptian was distributed by people from the guerrilla hotbed of Fallujah to Baghdad vendors, who broadcast them on screens over crates along streets.

Called “The Spy,” the CD appears on store shelves beside productions that have captivated Arab audiences for years, from popular Egyptian comedians to belly dancers to pirated Western action movies.

One store owner said he could not bear to watch the execution CD, let alone sell it to scores of customers who ask for it every day.

“I remember I ran over a cat in 1985 and the sound of its suffering still haunts me, so I can’t watch this death,” said Haydar Khalil, 54. “The market is booming, but I just can’t do it.”

But his friend, who watched the video, said the Egyptian deserved his fate.

“He said he offered Iraqi girls to the Americans. We cannot accept this, especially from a fellow Arab,” said Allaa Hamdan, 32.

The video has already generated conspiracy theories in a country where people kept quiet for decades to avoid the iron fist of toppled leader Saddam Hussein.

“A Muslim could not do something so barbaric. This was the work of Israeli intelligence trying to give Muslims a bad image in the world,” said video shop owner Abu Safwat.

“Besides, Islam does not permit beheadings from the side of the neck like in the video. It must be done from the back of the neck.”

Videos chronicling atrocities committed by Saddam and his sons are the next most popular hit after the beheading CD, although people have begun to lose interest, shopkeepers said.

“Before, people could only talk about what Saddam did. Now they want to make sure, to see it with their own eyes,” said Mr. Khalil.

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