South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun ordered a full investigation yesterday into the kidnapping and beheading of a South Korean hostage by militants in Iraq after it emerged the man was abducted three weeks before Seoul found out.
Militants decapitated Kim Sun-il, 33, after Seoul rejected their demands to pull 670 South Korean medics and engineers out of Iraq and drop plans to send 3,000 troops.
"President Roh has asked his top advisers for an extensive review into the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping and killing and to work to prevent similar incidents," a presidential spokesman said.
South Korea's foreign ministry faced fresh questions yesterday after media reports said it had been notified by US television company APTN earlier this month of the kidnapping.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Shin Bong-kil told reporters the ministry was trying to confirm the reports internally and had asked APTN for the names of ministry officials it had spoken to.
South Korean television stations repeatedly broadcast APTN's footage of Kim saying in English that he liked the Iraqi people and criticizing the US for the war in Iraq, in an apparent move to try to win his release.
Kim, an Arabic-speaking interpreter, was an evangelical Christian who had worked in Iraq for one year for a South Korean firm supplying the US army.
An Islamist Web site has posted a videotape of the beheading, showing heavily armed and masked men standing over a kneeling Kim, who was blindfolded and wearing an orange tunic. One man read from a written statement while another in a black mask grabbed Kim and hurled him to the floor, holding Kim's hair in one hand while forcing him to lie on his side and severing his head with the other.
The head was held in the air as militants chanted "Allah Akhbar [God is great]," before being placed on the body, which was later found by US forces.
South Korea's Ministry of Information and Communication is trying to block Internet access to that footage. It introduced a 24-hour emergency monitoring system to try to close down any Web site that uploaded video footage of Kim's execution.
"When the nation is in mourning, the ministry felt it was necessary to take strong measures," a ministry official said. "When we think it's appropriate, we will take legal action or request a police investigation."
Internet service providers blocked access yesterday to Web sites suspected of carrying graphic images of the beheading. But the government failed to stop South Korean Internet users from downloading the clip through US Web sites which contained Kim's last message before being decapitated.
"President Roh Moo-hyun ... Please don't send troops. You are making a big mistake," Kim said.
The gruesome killing of the South Korean has inflamed passions and shock in South Korea, triggering rallies close to the US embassy in the capital late on Wednesday opposed to sending South Korean troops to Iraq.
Roh has argued the troop decision was a tough but crucial step to support the US, an ally with 37,500 troops in South Korea to deter longtime foe North Korea.
The defense ministry said its Internet homepage had almost crashed with people debating the troop dispatch.
"We are trying to fix it as soon as possible," a ministry official said. "But I don't think it can be returned to normal any time soon."
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