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Iraq turns over decapitated corpse to U.S.
Updated: 2004-09-22 22:05

Iraqi officials recovered a decapitated corpse in western Baghdad on Wednesday and turned it over to the United States, which was investigating if it was the body of kidnapped American Jack Hensley — purportedly slain the day before by al-Qaida-linked militants.

A dead body is removed from the site after a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb outside a photocopy shop in Al-Jamiyah, Baghdad, Iraq, where Iraqi National Guard applicants were readying their papers before heading to a nearby recruiting center, Wednesday Sept. 22, 2004. Atleast 6 died and 54 were wounded in the blast. [AP]

The discovery came as Iraq's Justice Ministry promised to release one of two high-profile women prisoners. Officials denied the decision was linked to demands by militants who claimed responsibility for the slaying of Hensley and another American — and are threatening to execute a Briton captured with them unless all female Iraqi prisoners are freed. The United States said it wasn't aware of such a decision.

The brother of the British hostage, Kenneth Bigley, recorded a message to be broadcast on Arabic language TV station Al-Jazeera urging his captors to free him in response to the expected release of the Iraqi woman.

"They need to see it on television, they need to see females walking free," said Paul Bigley. "Hopefully they will pick this up on the media and show that they have a gram of decency in them by releasing Ken."

The announcements came as U.S. aircraft and tanks attacked rebel positions in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, killing 10 people and wounding 92. And at least six people were killed by a suicide car bomb in a commercial district in western Baghdad.

The body was found with its severed head in a black plastic bag in Baghdad's Amiriya neighborhood, said Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, an official with the Interior Ministry. The U.S. Embassy confirmed that a headless body was handed over to American authorities, but said officials were still trying to determine the identity of the corpse.

Hensley's family held out hope Tuesday that he was still alive.

"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, Georgia.

The announcement came after Tawhid and Jihad, an al-Qaida-linked group led by terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed Tuesday to have killed Hensley, saying their demands for the release of Muslim women had not been met. He would have marked his 48th birthday Wednesday.

On Monday, the group released gruesome footage of the beheading of fellow American hostage Eugene Armstrong. His body was discovered Monday just blocks from where he lived, western officials and witnesses said, raising the possibility that the hostages never left Baghdad.

"The nation's zealous sons slaughtered the second American hostage after the end of the deadline," the statement said. It was posted on an Islamic Web site and could not immediately be verified.

Several hours passed 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 announcing Hensley's death appeared on a different Islamic Web site and warned that Bigley, 62, would be the next to die unless all Iraqi women are released from two U.S.-controlled prisons, Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr.

Hensley, Armstrong and Bigley were kidnapped last Thursday from a house that the three civil engineers shared in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.

Ibrahim, of the Justice Ministry, said there was no link between the demands and the expected release of Rihab Rashid Taha on bail. 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," are the only two Iraqi women held in American custody, according to the U.S. military.

Ibrahim said the decision had been made by Iraqi and coalition authorities, and officials were also considering whether to also release Ammash, a former member of the Baath party.

However, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, said he was not aware of a decision to release Taha. He said a group of Iraqi male detainees had been previously scheduled to be released Wednesday from Abu Ghraib prison.

"There is an ongoing process that has been in place for some time to review the status of high-value detainees," Johnson said. "All I can say is that this process continues."

President Bush took a hard line during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, when he said: "We will not allow these thugs and terrorists to decide your fate and to decide our fate."

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 Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's interim 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.

More than 130 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, and at least 26 of them have been killed. Many more Iraqis have also been seized in the chaos since Saddam Hussein was ousted last year, in many cases for ransom.

In new violence Wednesday, a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb outside a photocopy shop in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Jamiyah where Iraqi National Guard applicants were readying their papers before heading to a nearby recruiting center. The blast killed at least six people and wounded 54, authorities said.

Bloodied bodies, shattered glass and debris littered the street. Residents and relief workers collected human remains and put them into plastic bags.

At least 13 vehicles were wrecked and the engine of the suicide car was hurled some 150 feet away, officials at the scene said. Iraqi police and U.S. troops immediately cordoned off the area.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi forces searched for weapons caches in Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold, in east Baghdad. An Associated Press reporter near the scene said a U.S. C130 gunship raked one area with heavy fire after rebels loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr opened fire with rocket propelled grenades. Hospital officials said at least 10 people were killed and 92 injured.

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