| An Iraqi detainee embraces his son and daughter during an hour of family visits inside the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. (AP)
Baghdad, June 23 (Reuters): Islamist militants vowed today to assassinate Iraq’s interim Prime Minister, just hours after they said they had beheaded a South Korean hostage in the violent run-up to a US handover to Iraqi rule.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian accused by US officials of organising many deadly attacks in Iraq, made the threat against Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on an Islamist website.
“As for you, Allawi — sorry, the democratically elected Prime Minister — we have found for you a useful poison and a sure sword,” said a taped voice, purported to be Zarqawi’s own.
Allawi, a tough former Baathist who plotted against Saddam Hussein from exile, responded defiantly.
“We do not care about these threats, we will continue to rebuild Iraq and work for freedom, democracy, justice and peace. Iraqis have faced these threats before,” said a spokesman from his office.
The interim government, selected by a UN envoy in consultation with American and Iraqi officials, will be sworn in when the US-led occupation formally ends in a week's time.
Zarqawi’s group, Jama’at al-Tawhid and Jihad, said yesterday it had decapitated South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il after Seoul refused to withdraw forces from Iraq.
Hours after finding Kim’s body, US forces launched an air strike on a suspected safe house of Zarqawi’s group in Falluja, west of Baghdad, the second such raid in four days. Residents said the attack destroyed a garage and killed four people.
Al Jazeera television showed footage yesterday of hooded gunmen standing over a kneeling Kim, who was blindfolded and wearing an orange tunic similar to those worn by prisoners in US detention facilities such as Guantanamo Bay.
“We warned you and you ignored it,” one of the men said. “Enough lies. Your army is not here for the sake of Iraqis but for the sake of cursed America.”
Al Jazeera said the tape then showed a man cutting off Kim’s head with a knife. It did not broadcast that part.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun denounced Kim’s killing and said his country would still send 3,000 more troops to Iraq to join its 670 engineers and medics there.
The Arabic-speaking South Korean translator, who shouted: “I don’t want to die” in an earlier videotape, was kidnapped in Falluja. His firm initially said he had been taken on June 17, but the foreign ministry in Seoul said it might have been earlier.
Washington, which views Zarqawi as an ally of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network and a chief architect of violence in Iraq, has put a $10 million bounty on his head. “The free world cannot be intimidated by the brutal action of these barbaric people,” US President George W. Bush said.
Zarqawi and other insurgents have intensified a campaign of bombings, assassinations and attacks on oil targets to disrupt the June 30 handover to Allawi’s government.
Korea firm on troops
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun denounced the beheading and said today his country would still send more troops there rather than bow to terrorism.
In unusually brief televised remarks to a country angry and in shock at the gruesome nature of the killing, a sombre Roh said South Korea would deal resolutely with terrorism.
“I still feel heartbroken to remember that the deceased was desperately pleading for his life,” Roh said. He described the killing as an inhumane criminal act and expressed deep sorrow to the family.
Kim’s parents had urged their government to do everything to save their son, a devout Christian who had worked in Iraq for a year.
After news of his death, they sat cross-legged and stunned in their modest backstreet house in the South Korean city of Busan, as his sister wailed and thrashed around in grief.