msnbc.com news services
updated 8/11/2004 3:21:29 PM ET 2004-08-11T19:21:29

An Islamic Web site carried a videotape Wednesday that appeared to show militants in Iraq beheading a man identified as a CIA agent. The authenticity of the videotape could not be verified immediately.

“We steer you away from speculation that this is a CIA officer,” a U.S. intelligence official advised MSNBC. “We have checked with our people and the person on the tape is not CIA."

The Internet site, regarded as a clearinghouse for tapes and statements by Islamic extremist groups, displayed footage of eight militants surrounding a seated man who wore a sign around his neck bearing his photograph and the letters CIA along with the word “visitor.”

In a close-up, the footage showed a masked militant holding a large knife to the man’s throat; the militant chopped repeatedly at the neck, severing the head.

A masked militant was then shown holding the head aloft.

Earlier Wednesday, Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the identity of a decapitated body found in Iraq’s Tigris River as that of a second Bulgarian truck driver taken hostage by al-Qaida-linked militants.

The ministry, citing DNA analysis, issued a statement saying the body found July 22 in the Tigris River was that of Ivaylo Kepov.

Kepov, 32, and another trucker, Georgi Lazov, 30, were kidnapped June 29 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by militants loyal to Jordanian-born terror suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Kepov and Lazov were driving trucks loaded with used cars.

Lazov’s decapitated body was found July 14, also in the Tigris.

Backlash in Bulgaria
The group that kidnapped the two drivers demanded that the U.S. military release all Iraqi detainees in exchange. Bulgaria refused to negotiate publicly for the men’s release.

But televised images of Kepov and Lazov kneeling before their captors outraged this country of 8 million people and prompted criticism of Bulgaria’s decision to join the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Bulgaria’s government has repeatedly said its 480 infantry troops will remain in Karbala, Iraq, under Polish command despite terror threats and the killings of the hostages.

Six Bulgarian soldiers have been killed in Iraq — five in a suicide attack against their base in December, and one in a skirmish with insurgents in April.

New beheading alleged
On Tuesday, an Islamist Web site carried a videotape that purported to show the beheading of a man identified as an "Egyptian spy" working for U.S. forces.

The tape, purportedly made by the Tawhid and Jihad Group of al-Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, showed the man giving his name as Mohammed Mutawalli and saying he helped U.S. forces in targeting their attacks on insurgents.

Masked men were then seen pushing him to the ground and decapitating him with a knife.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Lebanese businessman was freed after about a week in captivity in Iraq, his father said.

Robert Antoun said his son Antoine contacted him from the Iraqi capital, saying he was safe and in good health. He said his son was released Tuesday and would return to Lebanon later in this week.

The younger Antoun, who worked in a dairy factory in Iraq, was snatched by gunmen from a Baghdad street earlier this week.

His father, who spoke to The Associated Press from the family home in the northern Lebanese town of Qoubaiyat, refused to say whether any ransom had been paid.

While some kidnappings in Iraq have been staged by groups with political aims, many more have been purely for financial gain, with wealthy Iraqis as well as foreigners among the victims.

Jordan’s official Petra news agency said Tuesday that a Jordanian businessman had been taken hostage in Baghdad by kidnappers demanding $250,000 in ransom. It said Jamal Sadeq al-Salaymeh, who works as an agent for a Japanese company, was kidnapped by three men Monday from his home on Baghdad’s outskirts.

The Associated Press, Reuters and MSNBC's Robert Windrem contributed to this report.

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