Iraqi captors kill British hostage

Videotape confirms beheading of Briton

kin blasts Blair's negotiations

October 09, 2004|By Ashraf Khalil and Janet Stobart | Ashraf Khalil and Janet Stobart,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Islamic militants in Iraq have beheaded hostage Kenneth Bigley, the British Embassy and his family said yesterday, bringing a tragic end to the three-week effort to save the Briton's life.

A videotape purported to show the beheading was released to news organizations. The tape shows Bigley in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in front of six armed men, Reuters reported.

After the 62-year-old engineer read a statement, one of the men pulled a knife from his belt and sawed off Bigley's head as three men held him down, the news agency said.

In Liverpool, Bigley's younger brother, Philip, expressed the family's grief in a statement on nationwide television.

"The family here in Liverpool believes that our government did all it possibly could to secure the release of Ken in this impossible situation," he said. "The horror of these final days will haunt us forever. Our only consolation is that Ken is now at peace, away from those who are capable of such atrocities."

Kenneth Bigley's older brother, Paul, has harshly criticized British Prime Minister Tony Blair and has emerged as a rallying figure for Britons advocating the withdrawal of the country's troops from Iraq.

Blair, returning from a two-day trip to Africa, was stunned over the slaying.

"I feel utter revulsion at the people that did this, not just at the barbaric nature of the killing but the way, frankly, they have played with the situation over the last few weeks," he said.

Such actions, he said, "whether in Iraq or elsewhere, should not prevail over people like Kenneth Bigley, who, after all, only wanted to make Iraq and the world a better place."

Bigley's execution promises to intensify the chill felt by Baghdad's besieged and dwindling foreign community, further hampering reconstruction efforts.

The growing threat of home invasions has forced some companies, non-governmental groups and media organizations to leave the country or abandon their residences in favor of theoretically more secure hotels. On Thursday, the Ishtar Hotel, home to several Westerners and surrounded by walls and checkpoints, was the target of two rockets that caused no casualties.

Many U.S. contractors and international organizations have sought shelter in the heavily fortified Green Zone area of central Baghdad, which houses the U.S. and British embassies and Iraqi government offices. However, even that citadel has proved vulnerable to insurgent attacks. Mortar shells rain down on the area daily, and a bomb was discovered and defused Thursday inside the popular restaurant, Green Zone Cafe.

The British government, which maintained that it would not offer concessions to the kidnappers, facilitated several indirect appeals. These included distributing fliers in Baghdad bearing the hostage's picture, running advertisements in local media and supporting a delegation from the Muslim Council of Britain that visited Iraq.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who visited Baghdad earlier this week, called the killing "inhumane" and confirmed that British officials had established contact with Bigley's captors through an unnamed intermediary earlier this week.

As in previous messages, the captors demanded the release of all women jailed by U.S. and British authorities in Iraq, though officials maintained that only two - top scientists in Saddam Hussein's regime - were being held.

"Messages were exchanged with the hostage-takers in an attempt to dissuade them from carrying out their threat to kill Mr. Bigley," Straw said in a statement. "But at no stage did they abandon their demands relating to the release of women prisoners, even though they were aware that there are no women prisoners in our custody in Iraq."

Bigley was abducted Sept. 16, along with Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong, from a home in Baghdad. The three contractors were later shown in a video blindfolded in front of armed men claiming to be supporters of Jordanian insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.

The Los Angles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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