South Korean held in Iraq pleads for life
The Arab satellite TV network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape Sunday purportedly from al-Qaida linked militants showing a South Korean hostage begging for his life and pleading with his government to withdraw troops from Iraq.
"Korean soldiers, please get out of here," the man screamed in English, flailing his arms. "I don't want to die. I don't want to die. I know that your life is important, but my life is important."
South Korean media identified the hostage as Kim Sun-il, 33, an employee of South Korea's Gana General Trading, Co., a supplier for the U.S. military.
The video came two days after news of the beheading of American hostage Paul Johnson by al-Qaida-linked militants in Saudi Arabia, and an announcement Friday by South Korea that it will send 3,000 soldiers to northern Iraq beginning in early August. Once the deployment is complete, South Korea will be the largest coalition partner in Iraq after the United States and Britain.
After showing the hostage's plea, the tape showed him kneeling in front of three masked men, two of them armed with Kalashnikovs. The man standing in the middle read a statement in Arabic.
"Our message to the South Korean government and the Korean people: We first demand you withdraw your forces from our lands and not send more of your forces to this land. Otherwise, we will send to you the head of this Korean, and we will follow it by the heads of your other soldiers."
The statement gave Seoul 24 hours from sunset Sunday to meet its demand.
The group identified itself as Monotheism and Jihad; its purported leader, al-Zarqawi, is a Jordanian-born terrorist linked to al-Qaida. Al-Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for the videotaped beheading last month of American businessman Nicholas Berg.
An Al-Jazeera staff member at the network headquarters in Qatar, Mohammed al-Saadi, told The Associated Press by telephone that the two-minute videotape was mailed to the Al-Jazeera bureau in Baghdad.
"Our office in Baghdad received an unknown package. They opened it and they found the tape," al-Saadi said.
A South Korean television news station, YTN, said Kim had been in Iraq for about eight months. His distraught sister, Kim Jung-sook, told the station that his family last spoke to him in April. At that time, she said, Kim Sun-il was in the Fallujah area and planned to leave the area in July.
On Saturday, Seoul warned its people not to travel to Iraq, saying its decision to send troops might prompt terror attacks on South Koreans. The warning came amid news of the beheading of Johnson, although it did not mention the incident.
"At this time, we cannot rule out the possibility of harm to our nationals, following the official announcement of the additional troop dispatch to Iraq," Foreign Ministry spokesman Shin Bong-kil said in a statement.
"The government urges the people to refrain from visiting Iraq," it said.
South Korea plans to send 900 troops to Kurdish-controlled Irbil in early August, followed by about 1,100 troops between late August and early September. An additional 1,000 soldiers will travel to Iraq later.
South Korea already has 600 military medics and engineers in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
Seoul has portrayed the dispatch as a way of strengthening its alliance with the United States, thereby winning more support from Washington for a peaceful end to a long-running dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons development.
Johnson, 49, an engineer who had worked in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade, was kidnapped last weekend by militants who followed through on a threat to kill him by Friday if the Saudi kingdom did not release its al-Qaida prisoners.