British hostage beheaded in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Kidnappers beheaded British hostage Kenneth Bigley after twice releasing videos in which he wept and pleaded with Prime Minister Tony Blair for his life. A U.S. official said Friday there were credible reports that Bigley had tried to escape with the aid of one of his captors.
The attempt failed and Bigley was killed a short time later as was shown on a video of his beheading, the Washington official said on condition of anonymity. There was no word on the fate of his captor. A Western official in Baghdad refused to talk about the escape attempt report.
The 62-year-old civil engineer was the first British hostage killed in Iraq and the 28th overall. He was kidnapped three weeks ago, along with two American co-workers. They were beheaded earlier, and grisly footage of their killings was posted on the Internet.
A videotape sent to Abu Dhabi TV showed Bigley kneeling in front of six masked gunmen, according to a witness who saw the footage. One militant, speaking in Arabic, declared the Briton would be slain because his government refused to release women prisoners detained in Iraq.
The speaker then pulled a knife from his belt and severed Bigley’s head as three others pinned him down, said the witness, who spoke on condition he not be identified. The tape ended with the killer holding up the severed head.
Bigley was seized at his Baghdad home Sept. 16 by the most feared terrorist group in Iraq, Tawhid and Jihad, along with Americans Eugene Armstrong, 52, and Jack Hensley, 48. The Americans were beheaded days later.
Abu Dhabi TV did not broadcast the videotape of Bigley, saying it refused “to serve as a mouthpiece for such groups or their actions.”
U.S. and British officials in Iraq declined to confirm Bigley’s death, saying his body had not been found. However, Bigley’s brother, Phil, said the family had received “absolute proof” of his death.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Friday that messages were exchanged with Bigley’s kidnappers through an intermediary in Iraq. But he said the militants refused to drop their demands, “even though they were fully aware there are no women prisoners in our custody in Iraq.”
There were also rumors of a rescue attempt. When asked by reporters to comment on them, Straw said: “I’m afraid I can’t, no.”
The Western official in Baghdad dismissed the rumors of a rescue, saying they had never established where Bigley was being held and therefore no rescue was planned.
Meanwhile, one of Bigley’s brothers blamed Blair, saying Friday the prime minister has “blood on his hands.”
In a message to organizers of a Stop the War Coalition rally in Liverpool on Friday evening, his older brother Paul said: “Please, please stop this war and prevent other lives being lost. It is illegal and has to stop.”
That stern message contrasted with a statement read on British television by another brother, Phil Bigley. He said the “family believed the government had done all it could “to secure the release of Ken.”