Marine beheaded, militants say

Unverified e-mail says Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun has been `slaughtered'

July 04, 2004|By Carol J. Williams | Carol J. Williams,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi militants claimed yesterday to have beheaded a Lebanese-born U.S. Marine and said footage of the gruesome execution would soon appear on Arabic-language satellite television networks.

The reported slaying of Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, in what would be the fourth beheading by militants in the region in two months, served as a chilling rupture of the relative calm that had prevailed in Iraq since U.S.-led occupation forces handed sovereignty to an interim Iraqi leadership.

"In the name of God, for those who follow Guidance, we would like to inform you that the Marine of Lebanese origin Hassoun has been slaughtered," said the Internet message from a group calling itself the Ansar al Sunna Army. The claim couldn't be verified.

The same Web site carried initial word of the beheading of an American contractor in Saudi Arabia on June 18, as well as various claims by Abu Musab Zarqawi, whom U.S. officials blame for a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks in Iraq.

"We will show a new video of the detention of a new infidel hostage and as recently promised, the beheading of rotten heads," the statement said.

Addressed to President Bush, it warned: "Withdraw your Army and you will be safe. Or else we will keep on doing what we are doing."

On Tuesday, the satellite television channel Al-Jazeera reported that U.S. Army Spc. Keith Matthew Maupin, who was taken hostage April 9, had been killed by his captors. It aired a grainy video purporting to show the soldier being killed with a single shot to the back of his head. But military investigators said it was impossible to determine the identity of the subject because of the poor quality of the videotape.

Ansar al Sunna, which claimed responsibility for Feb. 1 suicide bombings that killed more than 100 people in the Kurdish stronghold of Irbil, also said yesterday that it would soon release evidence that it had kidnapped "a new infidel." It made no mention of the captive's nationality or how the group came to detain him.

Ansar al Sunna is believed to be an offshoot of the Ansar al Islam extremist group that is allied with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, as is Zarqawi's organization.

The period of relative calm that has endured for the past week of Iraqi sovereignty continued yesterday. In Baghdad, five Iraqi national guardsmen were killed in an insurgent ambush of a roadblock, and a Marine wounded Friday near Fallujah died of his wounds, a military spokesman reported. In southern Iraq, on oil pipeline ruptured early yesterday, but a British military official said there was no evidence of sabotage.

In the Web site claim of Hassoun's killing, the militants contended that the 24-year-old from West Jordan, Utah, had been intimate with an unidentified local woman, suggesting his execution was at least in part in punishment of violating Muslim religious values.

"Your soldier had romantic relations with an Arab girl," the statement asserted.

Dozens of coalition forces and contractors have fallen into the hands of insurgents trying to drive out the foreign occupiers of this country. But the extremists have turned to the practice of decapitation only recently, in what analysts contend is an effort to sow terror and revulsion. Hassoun's death follows the May beheading of American communications contractor Nicholas Berg, 26. A group claiming allegiance to Zarqawi claimed responsibility for his death and also said it had carried out the beheading of South Korean translator Kim Sun Il on June 22, as well as the killing four days earlier in Saudi Arabia of Lockheed Martin engineer Paul M. Johnson Jr.

Hassoun, whose family moved to the United States in the 1990s, was last seen with his unit June 19. The military reported him missing two days later and revised his status from "missing" to "captive" on Thursday.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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