Militants threaten to kill Iraq hostages
An al-Qaida linked group threatened in a videotape Saturday to behead two Americans and a Briton within two days, and insurgents carried out a new string of car bombings, killing at least 20 Iraqis and two American soldiers.
The videotape was the first word on the fate of Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong and Briton Kenneth Bigley since the three construction workers were kidnapped from their Baghdad home two days earlier.
"My job consists of installing and furnishing camps at Taji base," each man said in turn after identifying himself, as all three sat on the floor, blindfolded, slightly bowed but apparently unharmed. At one point, a militant's rifle pointed down at the head of the man who identified himself as Hensley.
The Tawhid and Jihad group, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the abduction and demanded the release of Iraqi women detained in two American prisons.
The videotape was broadcast by Al-Jazeera shortly before it revealed a fresh kidnapping claim. Another group claimed it had kidnapped 10 workers for an American-Turkish company and threatened to kill them in three days if their firm didn't leave Iraq.
Nevertheless, Allawi insisted U.S. and Iraqi forces were winning the fight and said progress would be made to calm the violence before crucial elections set for January.
The insurgency is "not getting stronger; it's getting more desperate. We are squeezing out the insurgency," Allawi said, speaking in an interview due to be aired Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
"We are winning. We will continue to win. And we are going to prevail," he said.
Guerrillas have struck with increasing sophistication in Baghdad, the center of Allawi's authority, and have dealt punishing blows against Iraq's security forces — which are the lynchpin of the U.S.-Iraqi strategy for fighting the insurgency.
On the road to Baghdad's airport Saturday, insurgents set off a car bomb near an overpass as a U.S. convoy passed, wounding three U.S. soldiers. When other American troops moved to the scene, another car bomb exploded, killing two soldiers and wounding eight more.
At least 19 people were killed and 67 wounded, the Health Ministry said.
It was the third bombing this week targeting the beleaguered security forces, seen as collaborators with the United States and its allies.
The attack occurred as recruits lined up to read the lists of those who had passed the physical fitness test, said Rustem Abdellah, one of the job-seekers who suffered burns to his face and chest.
"I am a graduate from the oil institute," Abdellah, 33, said from his hospital bed. "But there are no jobs available in the oil sector, and I was forced to join the guard force because of the difficult economic situation."
Earlier Sunday, a roadside bomb exploded in a small side street in central Baghdad, killing one Iraqi man and seriously wounding two, police and witnesses said.
The hostage videotape showed the American and British captives aired in part on Al-Jazeera television before it was posted in full on a Web site known for carrying Islamic militant material.
In the tape, a masked militant dressed in black stood behind the men and read from a statement, saying the three were kidnapped because they offer logistic support to American troops. He threatened to kill them unless Iraqi women detained at the American-controlled Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr prisons are freed within 48 hours.
A U.S. military official said only two Iraqi women were in U.S. custody.
The militant accused Allawi of enabling "infidel foreigners" to "violate the honor of Muslim women, humiliate people and suck up the riches of the country" and gave the United States and Britain 48 hours to release Iraqi women detained at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison and Camp Bucca at Umm Qasr in the British controlled south.
If the demand is not met, the speaker warned: "By the name of God, these three hostages will get nothing from us except their throats slit and necks chopped, so they will serve as an example."
In Armstrong's home town of Hillsdale, Mich., his brother, Frank Armstrong, said he'd spoken with the FBI about the abduction but declined to comment further.
"We only know what they're showing on television," said Minnta Davis, Armstrong's cousin. "We just know there are just a lot of prayers for him."
Gulf Supplies and Commercial Services, the employer of the kidnapped Americans and Briton, refused to comment on the tape when contacted by The Associated Press.
Both the prison facilities named in the video are run by American forces. Abu Ghraib is the prison where U.S. soldiers were photographed sexually humiliating male prisoners. Fears about the safety of women inmates have multiplied since then.
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said coalition forces do not hold any women at Abu Ghraib or at Camp Bucca.
"The only females we hold are two high-value detainees, which are kept with the other approximately 100 high-value detainees in a separate, secure location," Johnson said.
He did not rule out the possibility that women were among an estimated 1,500 prisoners at an Iraqi facility for convicted criminals at Umm Qasr.
Justice Ministry official Nouri Abdul Raheem said a U.S.-Iraqi committee reviewing the cases of detainees had decided to release all women and juveniles within the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, a previously unknown group calling itself the "Salafist Brigades of Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq" claimed it was holding 10 hostages working for an American-Turkish company, according to a tape broadcast by Al-Jazeera on Saturday. The group said the company had to leave Iraq within three days or the hostages would be killed.
The hostages' nationalities nor the name of their company were not given. The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified.
More than 100 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, and many have been
executed. At least five other Westerners are currently being held hostage here,
including an Iraqi-American man, two female Italian aid workers and two French