| A picture taken from a video, broadcast by al Jazeera, shows a militant (second from left) reading a statement while South Korean hostage Kim Sun-Il is kneels blindfolded in front of them. (AFP)
Baghdad, June 22 (Reuters): Militants beheaded a South Korean hostage in Iraq today after Seoul refused their demand to withdraw its troops and scrap plans to send more.
South Korea confirmed that US troops had found the body of 33-year-old Kim Sun-il, five days after he was seized in Falluja, a guerrilla hotbed 50 km west of Baghdad.
Arabic satellite channel al Jazeera broadcast footage of four heavily armed men standing over a kneeling Kim, who was dressed in an orange tunic and with an orange blindfold — mimicking the orange jumpsuits worn by prisoners in US detention facilities like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
Yesterday, a group led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said it was holding Kim and would execute him unless Seoul pulled out its 670 military medics and engineers in Iraq and cancelled plans to deploy 3,000 more troops.
US officials say Zarqawi’s group also beheaded US hostage Nicholas Berg in Iraq last month — and that Zarqawi himself probably wielded the knife in Berg’s killing.
In footage of Berg’s decapitation, he was shown wearing an orange tunic. The captors of Paul Johnson, a US contractor beheaded in Saudi Arabia last week by militants linked to al Qaida, also dressed him in orange before they killed him.
Since early April, dozens of foreign hostages have been seized in Iraq, many around Falluja. Most have been freed but at least four have been killed by their captors. Kim, an Arabic speaker and evangelical Christian, had worked in Iraq for a year as a translator for a South Korean firm supplying goods to the US army.
A Seoul commerce ministry spokeswoman said all South Koreans working for firms in Iraq were likely to leave the country by early next month.
American and Iraqi officials say insurgents are stepping up a campaign of assassinations, bomb attacks and economic sabotage in Iraq to try to disrupt the formal handover of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government on June 30.
Sabotage last week halted all oil exports, but officials said they resumed yesterday after repairs to one of two pipelines blown up in southern Iraq. The sabotage had choked about 1.6 million barrels of daily exports from Gulf terminals.
One controversy surrounding the June 30 handover is what will happen to Saddam Hussein and other high-profile Iraqi detainees in US custody.
A senior coalition official said today the US plans to turn over legal, but not physical, custody of Saddam and some other prisoners to the Iraqi interim government at its request soon after the handover.
“Because the Iraqi interim government is not currently in a position to safeguard these detainees, at least in large numbers, our current plan calls for the transfer of legal responsibility over a certain number of high-profile detainees... while physical custody will remain with the multinational force in Iraq,” the official told reporters.
In Baghdad, a pre-trial hearing for one of the seven U.S. soldiers charged with abusing Iraqi prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison rejected a request by the defence to reconsider the charges. Staff Sergeant Ivan “Chip” Frederick is expected to face a court martial later this year. Militant groups have cited the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib as one of the reasons for executing foreign hostages.