updated 10/14/2004 10:20:52 PM ET 2004-10-15T02:20:52

Two former Lebanese hostages returned home from Iraq on Thursday, and their employer credited a U.S. bombing that wounded both men and killed their Iraqi driver and the kidnappers for letting them escape.

Charbel Karam Haj and Aram Nalbandian, who work for a travel agency, were kidnapped Sept. 18 along with their driver, Ahmed Mirza, as they drove on a highway between Baghdad and Fallujah, a hotbed of insurgency 40 miles to the west.

The kidnappers and Mirza were killed Wednesday when U.S. forces bombed the building in Fallujah where the three were being held, Fadi Yassin, the travel agency's owner, said at Beirut's airport after flying back from Baghdad with Haj and Nalbandian.

“Haj and Nalbandian were removed from under the rubble by some Fallujah mujahedeen (holy warriors),” Yassin said.

‘Expecting death every minute’
He said Haj suffered a fractured hip and Nalbandian had a broken ankle. They were taken to the American University Hospital.

Nalbandian said he and Haj did not expect to make it out alive. "We were expecting death every minute," he said.

Haj, who said he was in tremendous pain, refused to speak with journalists.

Nalbandian said the men were treated poorly shortly after the kidnapping, "but things improved later." He said the captors told them that British hostage Kenneth Bigley was being held captive in the same building, but they never saw him.

Bigley and two American hostages were beheaded; the Tawhid and Jihad group, led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility.

Yassin was kidnapped along with his employees, but he was quietly released a few days later for reasons that remain unclear. He then began to negotiate with an intermediary he identified as Fallujah tribal leader Sheik Abu Abdullah. According to Yassin, the two sides agreed on a ransom of $100,000 for the men's release, which he handed over on Wednesday.

Timely attack
But as the followers of Sheik Abu Abdullah went to pick up the men, "the building where they were held captive came under heavy shelling by U.S. forces, which resulted in the killing of the kidnappers and driver Mirza."

He said the intermediaries returned the ransom money to him, and he showed the cash to journalists at the airport. Yassin said he did not know which group kidnapped the men, but the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. reported Thursday that they were held by Tawhid and Jihad.

Insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped more than 150 foreigners in their campaign to drive out coalition forces and hamper reconstruction efforts. Most have been kidnapped for ransom and freed unharmed, but at least 30 have been killed.

There are believed to be three Lebanese hostages held in Iraq; all others have been released unharmed except Hussein Ali Alyan, a 26-year-old construction worker whose body was found June 12. Hundreds of Lebanese, mainly construction workers and industrialists, went to Iraq looking for opportunities in the massive postwar reconstruction.

Video shows new beheading
Video that appeared on an Islamic Web site Thursday showed militants in Iraq beheading a man identified as a kidnapped Turkish driver.

He was the sixth Turk and the 30th foreign hostage slain by militants who oppose the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Most of the victims have worked for or alongside coalition interests in the country.

The video appeared on the Web site of the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, an Iraqi militant group. A statement read in the video said the kidnappers belonged to the group’s “Qaqa Brigade,” a reference to a commander who served Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

The Arabic-language Web site said the driver’s name was Ramazan Elbu. In a brief statement, the driver gave only his first name — Ramazan — and held up what appeared to be Turkish identity documents.

‘I am Ramazan’
The video began with the man, white haired and bearded, saying: “I am Ramazan. I drove a truck of supplies to the Americans. ... When I was coming back (to Turkey), the group captured me. I call on all Turkish drivers not to come to Iraq.”

Two kidnappers pushed the Turk to the ground and he was beheaded.

All 14 links to the video were severed about an hour after they appeared on the Web site.

Ansar al-Sunnah Army has claimed responsibility for killing a number of hostages, including 12 Nepalese construction workers, whose killing was shown in an Internet video posted on Aug. 31.

More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since the insurgency began after the U.S.-led overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

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