IMAGE: Kim Sun-il knelt in front of three captors in a videotape sent Sunday to Arab media.
Al-Jazeera via AP file
Kim Sun-il knelt in front of three captors in a videotape sent Sunday to Arab media.
NBC News and news services
updated 6/22/2004 9:03:47 PM ET 2004-06-23T01:03:47

An Iraqi militant group believed to be linked to al-Qaida beheaded a South Korean hostage Tuesday after the Seoul government refused to remove its soldiers from Iraq.

U.S. soldiers on a routine patrol found the body of the man, Kim Sun-il, 33, between Baghdad and Fallujah, 22 miles west of the capital, about noon (4 a.m. ET), military officials told NBC News. They said that Kim’s body was booby-trapped with explosives but that the explosives did not go off.

The South Korean Embassy in Baghdad confirmed that the body was Kim’s by studying a picture of the remains it received by e-mail, Shin said. South Korean television showed Kim’s distraught family members weeping and rocking back and forth with grief at their home in the southeastern port city of Busan.

President Bush condemned the execution and said he remained confident that South Korea would go ahead with plans to send 3,000 troops to Iraq. “The free world cannot be intimidated by the brutal actions of these barbaric people,” he said in Washington.

U.S. forces launched an airstrike in Fallujah on a safehouse used by followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist whose al-Qaida-linked group, Monotheism and Jihad, was believed to have snatched and killed Kim.

The Arabic-language satellite television channel Al-Jazeera reported that three people were killed and that six others were wounded, while witnesses and a hospital official told Reuters that four people were killed.

Statement read on new video
Kim worked for Gana General Trading Co., a South Korean company supplying the U.S. military in Iraq. He was abducted last week, according to the South Korean government.

Video: Hostage beheaded

A videotape, apparently made shortly before his death and aired on Al-Jazeera, showed Kim kneeling, blindfolded and wearing an orange jumpsuit similar to those issued to prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Five hooded men stood behind Kim, one reading a statement and gesturing with his right hand. Another captor had a big knife slipped in his belt.

One of the masked men said the message was intended for the Korean people: “This is what your hands have committed. Your army has not come here for the sake of Iraqis, but for cursed America.”

The video did not say when Kim was killed. A spokesman for Al-Jazeera said the tape went on to show one of the men cutting off Kim’s head with a knife, which the station did not air.

Al-Jazeera said the video claimed that the execution was carried out by al-Zarqawi’s organization, which also claimed responsibility for the decapitation of U.S. businessman Nicholas Berg last month on a videotape that was posted on an al-Qaida-linked Web site. U.S. officials believe al-Zarqawi himself wielded the knife in Berg’s killing.

In Saudi Arabia, Paul M. Johnson Jr., 49, a U.S. helicopter technician, was kidnapped by al-Qaida militants who followed through on a threat to kill him if the kingdom did not release its al-Qaida prisoners. An al-Qaida group claiming responsibility posted an Internet message that showed photographs of Johnson’s severed head.

Kim’s kidnappers had initially threatened to kill him at sundown Monday unless South Korea canceled its troop deployment to Iraq. The government rejected the demand, standing firm with plans to dispatch 3,000 soldiers starting in August.

In a dispatch from Baghdad, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted an “informed source” as saying negotiations with the kidnappers collapsed over the South Korean government’s refusal to comply.

S. Korea to evacuate 22 nationals
South Korea convened its National Security Council shortly after Kim’s death was confirmed and reiterated its decision to send more troops to Iraq. “Our government’s basic spirit and position has not changed,” a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said.

The government had already said that it would evacuate the last of its 22 nationals in Iraq by early next month because of concern over reprisals for the deployment. It also warned its citizens not to travel to Iraq for the same reason.

Kim was believed to have been kidnapped about 10 days ago. A videotape broadcast Sunday by Al-Jazeera showed him pleading for his life.

Kim, described as a devout Christian, studied Arabic as well as English in South Korea. His parents said he went to Iraq because he dreamed of becoming a missionary in the Arab world, the Seoul newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported. A South Korean television news station, YTN, said he had been in Iraq for about eight months.

Recent abductions and attacks appear aimed at undermining the interim government that is set to take power June 30, when the U.S.-led occupation formally ends. U.S. and Iraqi officials have vowed to go ahead with the transfer.

Dan Senor, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said that by week’s end, all Iraqi government ministries would be under full Iraqi control.

NBC’s Tom Aspell in Baghdad and Scott Foster in Washington, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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