Wednesday, June 23, 2004

BAGHDAD — Insurgents beheaded South Korean translator Kim Sun-il, 33, an evangelical Christian who begged for his life, yesterday after his government refused the abductors’ demand that it not send troops to Iraq.

His butchered body was dumped by a roadside. He was the second person to be decapitated in the Middle East in a week and the third since early May.

“It breaks our hearts that we have to announce this unfortunate news,” said the Korean Embassy in Baghdad.

President Bush quickly condemned the killing in Iraq, saying, “The free world cannot be intimidated by the brutal actions of these barbaric people.”

In Seoul, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun denounced the slaughter of the hostage but reaffirmed his determination to send more troops, saying they were needed to help rebuild the country.

The wave of decapitations spread yesterday to Afghanistan, where government soldiers beheaded four Taliban fighters after guerrillas cut off the heads of an Afghan interpreter for U.S.-led forces and an Afghan soldier, a government commander said yesterday.

Hours after the South Korean translator was killed, U.S. forces fired rockets at a house in the Sunni city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Officials described the home as a hide-out of terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi, who is thought to be behind two beheadings and a string of suicide bomb attacks.

U.S. officials in Washington were unable to say whether the strike had been successful, but Fallujah residents told the Associated Press that the air strike hit a parking lot, killing three persons and wounding nine.

U.S. soldiers discovered Mr. Kim’s body alongside the road between Baghdad and Fallujah yesterday evening, dashing hopes raised earlier when kidnappers extended the 24-hour deadline, which was issued on a Web site on Sunday.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition deputy operations chief, did not identify Mr. Kim, but said the body of “an Asian male” had been found west of Baghdad yesterday evening.

“It appears that the body had been thrown from a vehicle,” Gen. Kimmitt said. “The man had been beheaded, and the head was recovered with the body.”

The killing came just four days after al Qaeda militants in Saudi Arabia beheaded American helicopter technician Paul M. Johnson Jr., 49. Another American, Nicholas Berg, was beheaded in Iraq on May 11.

In the latest case, the insurgents had postponed the killing of Mr. Kim for 24 hours after South Korean officials made contact through intermediaries, seeking to negotiate.

However, the talks broke down when it became clear that the Koreans would not reconsider their decision to deploy 3,000 troops to Iraq, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

“Our government’s basic spirit and position has not changed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Shin Bong-kil said in Seoul last night. “We confirm that again because our troop deployment is for reconstruction and humanitarian aid support for Iraq.”

However, the government’s National Security Council did urge the estimated 65 Korean civilians in Iraq to leave before the transfer of authority to an Iraqi government on June 30.

Mr. Kim, an Arabic translator working for a Korean company selling goods to the U.S. military, was abducted in Fallujah by a group that U.S. intelligence considers to be closely linked to the Jordanian terrorist Zarqawi.

Zarqawi is thought to be the mastermind of a string of car bombings that have rocked Baghdad in recent weeks and to have carried out the videotaped beheading of Mr. Berg.

In a videotape sent to Al Jazeera last night, Mr. Kim was shown wearing an orange jumpsuit like those worn by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison and a matching blindfold, clearly terrified and gasping for breath.

He was kneeling in front of five men in paramilitary clothing, their faces covered with scarves and their torsos decked with weapons.

On the tape, one of the masked kidnappers read a statement addressed to the Korean people, saying, “This is what your hands have committed. Your army has not come here for the sake of Iraqis, but for cursed America.”

The Al Jazeera broadcast did not show Mr. Kim’s killing, but said it was shown on the video.

In Pusan, South Korea, Mr. Kim’s distraught parents were shown on television weeping bitterly and rocking back and forth. Vigils for the interpreter had been held for several days in South Korea, where many participants had appealed for their government to cancel the deployment to Iraq.

About 650 South Korean medics and engineers are stationed in the southern Iraqi city of Nasariyah. They are to be redeployed to an area around the northern Iraqi city of Irbil along with the other 3,000 troops when they arrive.

Korean officials said they had tried to negotiate the release of Mr. Kim through diplomatic channels, government intervention and the involvement of tribal and religious leaders.

“It is very hard to do, to talk to people who don’t want money, who don’t want anything other than not to deploy the troops,” said one Korean national in Baghdad. “These people had only a political objective, they just wanted us to reverse the policy. We are all very sad tonight.”

In other developments yesterday, U.S. officials said they would hand legal custody of Saddam Hussein and several of his aides to the interim government as soon as Iraqi courts issue the appropriate warrants and request the transfer.

However, the United States will retain physical custody of Saddam and the prisoners, while giving Iraqi prosecutors and defense lawyers access to them, one official told AP, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Two American soldiers were killed yesterday and another was wounded in an attack on a convoy near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

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