| A picture taken from a militant video shows Roy Hallums pleading for his life. (Reuters)
Baghdad, Jan. 25 (Reuters): Insurgents distributed a video today showing a US hostage pleading for his life, and militants assassinated a senior judge in Baghdad, pressing their campaign of violence ahead of yesterday's watershed election.
The undated video shows American contractor Roy Hallums, who was seized with five colleagues in Baghdad in November, sitting cross-legged in front of a black background anxiously rubbing his hands as he makes an appeal to the camera.
The release of the tape and the judge's murder came just days before the January 30 election and amid a nationwide surge in tension, as Sunni-led militants intent on disrupting the vote step up attacks.
'I have been arrested by a resistance group in Iraq,' 56-year-old Hallums, dressed in civilian clothes and his beard flecked with white, says on the tape. 'I'm asking for help because my life is in danger because it's been proved that I work for American forces.'
As he speaks, the barrel of an assault rifle is held inches from his head.
Unlike other tapes made by militants of hostages seized in Iraq, no flags or banners of an organisation appear in the picture and no demands are made.
It is the first tape to emerge of Hallums since he and his colleagues were kidnapped on November 1, 2004. Four of those have since been freed, while the whereabouts of a Filipino remain unknown. All worked for a Saudi Arabian food contracting firm.
Judge Qais Hashim Shameri was killed along with his son in an ambush as they left home in eastern Baghdad during morning rush hour, police sources said. The attack again showed the ability of insurgents to strike at the heart of Iraq's US-backed interim government.
Ansar al-Sunna, a militant Sunni group which has carried out a series of deadly attacks in recent weeks, claimed responsibility for the assassination in an Internet posting.
'The heroes ambushed a senior leader of infidelity and apostasy,' a statement on the group's website said.
Guerrillas killed the provincial governor and deputy police chief of Baghdad earlier this month.
On the tape, Hallums pleads for help from Arab leaders but not President George W. Bush, although the video appeared intended to pressure Washington ahead of Sunday's election.