Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Militants claim to have killed US hostage

URGENT MESSAGE In a video posted on an Islamic Web site, a supposed hostage appealed to Americans to leave Iraq before apparently being beheaded on camera

REUTERS AND AP , BAGHDADAND SAN FRANCISCO

The videotape was posted on a militant Web site and aired on Arab television Saturday. Vanderford was clad in a T-shirt, not the orange jumpsuit that other hostages have been dressed in.

The video was titled "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Slaughters an American." Zarqawi is an al-Qaida linked militant whose group, Tawhid and Jihad, has claimed responsibility for numerous deadly attacks across Iraq, including the beheading of US businessman Nicholas Berg.

Vanderford's video also showed images of disfigured and injured people in Iraq. A recording of the Quran, Islam's holy book, played in the background.

Sipping soda in his kitchen, a shirtless Vanderford said he spliced images he took from a Hamas Web site showing mutilated bodies. He later edited the 55 second video to downgrade the quality so it would look similar to beheading tapes distributed since the war in Iraq began.

"We had to make it more lower quality to make it more realistic," said Vanderford, who works at a bank. "That was another experiment that was part of this to see how quickly that system will spread news."

He said he understood if relatives of those killed in Iraq thought his stunt was misguided, but he offered no apologies for the hoax.

"I see how it could be considered disrespectful. But I think people, if they look at it, will understand two other big issues it brings up," he said. "A small group of disgruntled people in Iraq or Saudi Arabia could just get more attention just by easily releasing something like I did on the Internet."

Battle in Najaf

US marines battled Shiite militiamen in the holy city of Najaf for a third day yesterday as the death toll mounted in the worst bout of fighting in Iraq in four months.

The fresh fighting marks another major challenge for US-backed Allawi and has destroyed a two-month-old ceasefire between US forces and the Mehdi Army, a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The US marines said they had killed 300 fighters of Sadr's Mehdi Army militia. But a militia spokesman said only 36 militiamen had died in several Iraqi cities from clashes that have fuelled fears of a new rebellion of radical Shi'ites.

Statements on Friday said two US marines were killed in action in Najaf and one soldier died of an attack in Baghdad.

The latest upsurge of violence also throws into doubt a conference set for Aug. 15 to choose a 100-member National Council to act as parliament.

Residents in Najaf said the combatants exchanged machinegun fire, shells and mortars into the early hours yesterday. There was a lull, but then fierce fighting erupted again around midday.

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