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American Beheaded On
Live Video In Iraq

By Andrew Buncombe and Justin Huggler

12 May 2004
The Independent

Click Here To See The Pictures

A group linked to al-Qa'ida released a video last night showing five of its members beheading an American businessman in Iraq, in what it said was revenge for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail by US troops. The man's body was found dumped in Baghdad.

The poor-quality video, posted on a website often used by the group, shows the men wearing scarves and ski-masks and standing over the American before cutting off his head with a large knife. The man identifies himself as Nick Berg and is heard to scream as he is slain.

The release of the video by the group, Muntada al-Ansar, will add to the already considerable pressure facing the Bush administration as it seeks to deal with the political fallout of the prisoner abuse scandal. It had been predicted that the pictures of the abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners that have been broadcast around the Arab world would make the perilous situation in Iraq even more dangerous for US troops and civilians.

The forecast appears to have been proved true by the release of the video entitled "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American". The video claims that Mr Zarqawi, a Jordanian national and a senior lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, is the one who cuts off Mr Berg's head, though some reports said intelligence officials did not believe the voice on the video sounded like Zarqawi.

The US has offered US$10m (£5.6m) for information leading to the capture or killing of Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmad Fadhil al-Khalayleh, saying he was trying to build a network of foreign militants in Iraq to work for al-Qa'ida.

Mr Berg's parents from West Chester, a suburb of Philadelphia, confirmed that US authorities had informed them their son's body had been recovered from an overpass close to a highway in Baghdad on Saturday. Michael and Suzanne Berg said they had been told their son had been decapitated but they had no idea a video of the killing existed or would be released.

On the video, Mr Berg, 26, who owned a communications equipment company and went to Iraq seeking contracts to rebuild antennas, is heard saying: "My name is Nick Berg, my father's name is Michael, my mother's name is Suzanne. I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in ... Philadelphia." He is seen sitting bound on a white chair wearing an orange jumpsuit, similar to those worn by prisoners in US jails. After he read the statement, the masked men are seen pulling Mr Berg to one side and then putting a large knife to his neck.

A scream sounds as one of the men cuts off his head, shouting "Allahu Akbar". The executioner then holds the decapitated head out in front of the camera. A statement read out by one of the men on says: "For the mothers and wives of American soldiers, we tell you that we offered the US administration to exchange this hostage with some of the detainees in Abu Ghraib and they refused.

"So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins ... slaughtered in this way. How can a free Muslim sleep well as he sees Islam slaughtered and its dignity bleeding, and the pictures of shame and the news of the devilish scorn of the people of Islam - men and women - in the prison of Abu Ghraib?"

The execution recalls the murder of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter, who was executed in Pakistan after being taken hostage by al-Qa'ida members in January 2002. He too was beheaded and his body mutilated.

In Washington, the State Department confirmed the body of a US citizen, identified as Mr Berg had been found in Baghdad. The official said Mr Berg had no ties to the military but offered no further details and did not comment on the group's claim it had offered to exchange him for Iraqi prisoners.

Suzanne Berg said the authorities had been of little help to her and the family had been forced to hire a private investigator. "I went through this with them for weeks," she said.

Michael Berg said they had been told in advance their son had been decapitated. "I knew he was decapitated before. That is preferable to a long and torturous death. But I didn't want it to become public," he said. He blamed the Bush administration for creating circumstances that led to his son's death.

He said that if his son had not been detained for so long, he might have been able to leave the country before the violence worsened. I think a lot of people are fed up with the lack of civil rights this thing has caused," he said.

* The head of Iraq's war crimes tribunal said yesterday that the US has pledged to hand over Saddam Hussein and 100 other suspects to Iraqi authorities before 1 July if there is the will and facilities to keep them in custody. The US has denied Salem Chalabi's claim, saying there had been no timeframe set for handing Saddam back from his secret location.