Beheaded man's kin in deep sorrow
Relatives of an American civilian whose beheading was shown on an Islamic militant Web site huddled in tears Tuesday after learning of the graphic videotape.
The video, posted Tuesday, showed Nick Berg, 26, slain by an al-Qaida-affiliated group. The video said the killing was to avenge the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers.
"My name is Nick Berg, my father's name is Michael, my mother's name is Suzanne," he said on the video before being killed. "I have a brother and sister, David and Sara. I live in ... Philadelphia."
Berg's family said U.S. State Department officials on Monday had told them Berg's decapitated body was found near a highway in Baghdad on Saturday.
When told by a reporter about the Web site, Berg's father, brother and sister cried in their front yard in this Philadelphia suburb.
"I knew he was decapitated before," said Berg's father. "That manner is preferable to a long and torturous death. But I didn't want it to become public."
The slaying recalled the kidnapping and videotaped beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 in Pakistan. Four Islamic militants have been convicted of kidnapping Pearl, but seven other suspects - including those who allegedly slit his throat - remain at large.
Berg's mother said her son was in Iraq as an independent businessman to help rebuild communication antennas. Berg owned a communications equipment company, Prometheus Methods Tower Service Inc., she said.
He was in Baghdad from late December to Feb. 1, and was offered work there with a telecommunications company, his father said. He returned to Iraq in March, his family said, but was told by the company it no longer had a post for him, so he planned to head home.
The Bergs last heard from their son April 9, when he told his parents he would come home by way of Jordan. Suzanne Berg said that the family had been trying for weeks to learn where their son was, but that federal officials had not been helpful.
"I went through this with them for weeks," she said. "I basically ended up doing most of the investigating myself."
Berg, who was not married, had traveled several times to Third World countries to help spread technology. His family said he had gone to Ghana to teach villagers to make bricks out of minimal materials, then came back emaciated because he gave away most of his food.
"That's the kind of passion we're dealing with here," Michael Berg said.
Michael Berg described himself as fervently anti-war, but said his son disagreed. "He was a Bush supporter," Berg said. "He looked at it as bringing democracy to a country that didn't have it."
Though he never graduated college, Berg attended Cornell, Drexel, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Oklahoma, his father said.
Nick Berg's friends at the West Chester Area YMCA said he worked out and swam several times a week and was always ready with a joke.
"Some of the hardest laughter I had at the fitness center were from the jokes he told," said Nick Fillioe, a sports director at the West Chester Area YMCA.
Michael Berg lashed out at the U.S. military and Bush administration, saying his son might still be alive if he had been allowed to leave the country on March 30, as he had originally planned.
"I think a lot of people are fed up with the lack of civil rights this thing has caused," he said. "I don't think this administration is committed to democracy."
Nick Berg spoke to his parents on March 24 and said he would return home March 30. But he was detained by Iraqi police at a checkpoint in Mosul on March 24. At some point during his 13-day detention, U.S. officials took custody of him, his father said, and he was not allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer.
FBI agents visited Berg's parents in West Chester on March 31 and told the family they were trying to confirm their son's identity. On April 5, the Bergs sued the government in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military.
Berg was released the next day, and he told his parents he had not been mistreated. They did not hear from him after April 9.