Militants claim another U.S. hostage killed
BAGHDAD, Iraq – An al-Qaida-linked group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed Tuesday to have killed the second of two American hostages – back-to-back slayings that have notched up the Jordanian militant’s ruthless campaign of terror.
The claim, posted on an Islamic Web site, could not immediately be verified.
Al-Zarqawi’s group, Tawhid and Jihad, kidnapped two Americans – Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong – and Briton Kenneth Bigley on Thursday from a home that the three civil engineers shared in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood. Al-Zarqawi beheaded Armstrong, and the militants on Monday posted a gruesome video of the 52-year-old man’s death.
The new posting followed the passing of the militants’ 24-hour deadline for the release of all Iraqi women from prison, and after anguished relatives in the United States and Britain begged for the lives of Bigley, 62, and Hensley, who would have marked his 49th birthday today.
“We do not have confirmation as of now that the body that has been found is Jack Hensley. We are still hopeful at this time that Jack Hensley is still with us,” Hensley’s wife, Pati, said in a prepared statement read by family spokesman Jack Haley outside the family’s home in Marietta, Ga.
“The nation’s zealous sons slaughtered the second American hostage after the end of the deadline,” the first statement said. It was signed with the pseudonym Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the name usually used on statements from al-Zarqawi’s group. Claims on this Web site have proven to be accurate in the past.
The brief statement did not give the name of the hostage killed.
Several hours passed on Tuesday after the initial announcement with the promised video proof failing to appear. On Monday, by contrast, the video of Armstrong’s killing was posted within an hour of the initial statement claiming he was dead.
Late Tuesday, an expanded version of the statement saying a second American had been killed appeared on a different Web site and warned that Bigley would be the next to die. It did not contain any new deadline, and its authenticity was not known.
Tawhid and Jihad – Arabic for “Monotheism and Holy War” – has claimed responsibility for killing at least seven hostages, including another American, Nicholas Berg, who was abducted in April. The group has also said it is behind a number of bombings and gun attacks.
A host of militant groups have used kidnappings and bombings as their signature weapons in a blood-soaked campaign to undermine interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s government and force the United States and its allies out of Iraq. The violence has already persuaded companies to leave Iraq, hindered foreign investment, led firms to drop out of aid projects, restricted activities to relatively safe areas and forced major expenditures on security.
The violence continued unabated Tuesday. A car bomb wounded four U.S. soldiers on the road to Baghdad’s airport and two Marines were reported killed in earlier attacks west of the capital, underscoring the inability of American forces to control key parts of Iraq 17 months after starting operations here.
President Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq, telling a subdued U.N. General Assembly session Tuesday that the war launched without U.N. approval delivered the Iraqi people from “an outlawed dictator.”
On the sidelines of the meetings, Bush told Allawi, “We will not allow these thugs and terrorists to decide your fate and to decide our fate. “
Allawi said: “The barbaric action of yesterday is really unbelievable.”
Al-Zarqawi, standing alongside four other masked militants clad in black, personally cut off Armstrong’s head, the CIA confirmed after analyzing his voice on Monday’s footage.
Armstrong’s body was discovered only blocks from where he lived, officials and witnesses said.
Rick Gamber, Armstrong’s cousin, told NBC’s “Today Show” that the family doesn’t want revenge.
“Our family feels a great deal of grief,” he said. “We hope the criminals are brought to justice, but we certainly don’t want people to overreact and do something foolish.”
In a video posted Saturday, Tawhid and Jihad had threatened to kill the three men unless Iraqi women were released from two U.S.-controlled prisons, Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr.
Abu Ghraib is the prison where American soldiers were photographed sexually humiliating male prisoners, raising fears about the safety of women detainees.
In Monday’s video, al-Zarqawi announced that Tawhid and Jihad was taking revenge for female Iraqi prisoners and called Bush “a dog.”
The U.S. military says women are not held at either facility but has acknowledged it is holding two female “security prisoners” elsewhere. They are Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha, a scientist who became known as “Dr. Germ” for helping Iraq make weapons out of anthrax, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, a biotech researcher known as “Mrs. Anthrax.”