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Militants threaten to behead US, UK hostages in Iraq
Updated: 2004-09-18 23:34

Insurgents threatened to behead two Americans and a Briton captured in Baghdad on Saturday and launched a suicide car bomb attack on Iraqi security forces in the northern city of Kirkuk that killed at least 23 people.

In Internet video footage the three hostages were shown kneeling blindfolded on the ground, with a hooded gunman aiming his weapon at the head of one of the captives.

The gunman said the Tawhid and Jihad group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would kill the men unless female Iraqi prisoners were freed from two Iraqi jails within 48 hours.

"Tawhid and Jihad sets a 48-hour deadline for the release of all our Muslim sisters in Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr prisons or else, by God, these three hostages will have their throats slit to set an example," the militant said.

The US military said no women were held at either jail.

Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for many of the bloodiest attacks in Iraq, and in May released video foootage of the beheading of US hostage Nicholas Berg.

Guerrilla violence and instability across Iraq have undermined the authority of the US-backed Iraqi government and raised doubts that elections can be held in January as planned.

In the third major suicide attack this week against Iraq's beleaguered security forces, a car bomber on Saturday killed at least 23 people outside the headquarters of the Iraqi National Guard in the northern city of Kirkuk, hospital officials said.

The bomb ripped through a crowd of people waiting to apply for jobs at the offices in Kirkuk, 250km (155 miles) north of Baghdad. Iraqis queuing up to join the country's security forces have repeatedly been targeted by guerrillas.

Body parts, shoes and debris littered the dirt road outside the headquarters. Firefighters doused flames from a mangled car, and ambulances ferried the wounded to hospital.


Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed over the past week in a surge of violence. The United States has conceded that elections could not be held under current security conditions but says it has launched a mission to regain control of rebel-held areas by the end of the year so the polls can go ahead on time.

On Saturday afternoon, a suspected suicide car bomb targeted a US military convoy on the road to Baghdad's international airport. The US military said three soldiers were wounded in the blast, which shattered windows of houses in the area and sent thick black smoke spiralling into the sky.

There has been a wave of car bomb attacks over the last week. On Tuesday, a suicide bomb outside a police headquarters building in Baghdad killed at least 47 people, many of whom had been queuing up to apply for jobs with the police. It was the deadliest attack in the capital in six months.

Washington regards Zarqawi as its top foe in Iraq and says he has links to al Qaeda. It has offered $25 million for information leading to his death or capture.

The US military has mounted a series of air strikes around the guerrilla stronghold of Falluja targeting Zarqawi's network and says dozens of his fighters have been killed in recent days.

The three hostages threatened with death, Americans Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley and Briton Kenneth Bigley, were seized from a house in Baghdad by a group of armed men on Thursday. On the Internet footage they gave their names and said they were employed furnishing a base at Taji, north of Baghdad.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said his government was doing all in its power to help but he avoided a public response to the insurgents threatening to kill Bigley.


More than 100 foreigners from dozens of countries have been snatched in the last six months. Most were later released but around 30 have been killed, sometimes by beheading.

At least seven Westerners are being held, including two male French journalists and two female Italian aid workers.

Mohammed al-Zibari, a senior official in the state-run North Oil Company, survived an assassination attempt on Saturday when gunmen attacked his convoy in the northern city of Mosul with automatic gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, police said. Four of his bodyguards were killed.

Guerrillas frequently attack the country's oil infrastructure as part of a campaign to stall reconstruction.

In the city of Ramadi, police said they had found the body of the deputy provincial governor. He had been shot dead.

In Britain, leaked Foreign Office documents showed Foreign Secretary Jack Straw raised the issue of postwar chaos in Iraq before the war to oust Saddam Hussein began.

"No one has satisfactorily answered how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be any better," the Daily Telegraph quoted Straw as saying in a note to Blair marked "secret and personal."

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