June 23, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's interim prime minister said Wednesday he was determined to confront the mastermind of bombings and beheadings who threatened to assassinate him, and the U.S. military said it killed 20 foreign fighters at the suspected terrorist's hideout.
A recording purportedly made by Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatened to kill interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and fight the Americans "until Islamic rule is back on Earth."
The audio was found Wednesday on an Islamic Web site from the group that claimed responsibility for the beheading of American hostage Nicholas Berg and Kim Sun-il, a South Korean whose decapitated body was found Tuesday between Baghdad and Fallujah.
After the slaying, U.S. forces launched an airstrike on what the Americans said was an al-Zarqawi hideout in Fallujah. A senior coalition military official said 20 foreign fighters and terrorists were believed to have been killed in the Tuesday night strike. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Dr. Loai Ali Zeidan at Fallujah Hospital put the death toll at three with nine wounded. It was the second U.S. airstrike on Fallujah since Saturday.
"In both cases, we believe we hit significant numbers of al-Zarqawi lieutenants and al-Zarqawi fighters," said another official, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt. The airstrikes also destroyed large ammunition stores, Kimmitt, coalition deputy operations chief, said Wednesday in an interview with Associated Press Television News.
In the audiotape, the speaker thought to be al-Zarqawi told Allawi that "we will continue the game with you until the end." The speaker said "we will not get bored" until "we make you drink from the same glass" as Izzadine Saleem, the Iraqi Governing Council president killed last month in a car-bombing claimed by al-Zarqawi's group.
"We will carry on our jihad against the Western infidel and the Arab apostate until Islamic rule is back on Earth," the voice said.
An official with Allawi's office dismissed the threat, saying it would not derail the transfer of sovereignty next week.
President Bush called Allawi to "reiterate his commitment to the Iraqi people," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. During the call, which was scheduled before the al-Zarqawi statement, Allawi raised the topic of the assassination threat, McClellan said.
McClellan did not provide Bush's response but said Allawi "is determined to confront these terrorist threats."
South Koreans reacted with sorrow and anger to Kim's beheading Wednesday, with President Roh Moo-hyun calling it a "crime against humanity."
Kim's body was found two days after he appeared on a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera television, pleading "I don't want to die," and begging his government to pull its soldiers out of Iraq.
South Korea refused and said it would go ahead with plans to send another 3,000 forces here by August, which will make it the third-largest troop contributor after the United States and Britain.
"When we think of his desperate appeals for life, our hearts are wrenched with grief," Roh said Wednesday in a national address.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb exploded near Baghdad's Kindi Hospital on Wednesday, killing a policeman who was handling the bomb and a mother and her child who were riding in a taxi, Iraqi police said. Another man, his shirt off, was seen being led away in handcuffs.
In Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold 60 miles west of Baghdad, gunmen killed two policemen and wounded a third in a drive-by shooting, witnesses said.
A roadside bomb also exploded as an Iraqi National Guard patrol passed in the northern city of Mosul, killing one Iraqi soldier and wounding four others, the U.S. military said.
The beheading of Kim, 33, who worked for a South Korean company providing supplies to U.S. forces, stunned South Korea and prompted Seoul to order all nonessential civilians to leave Iraq as soon as possible.
Late Tuesday, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape of a terrified Kim kneeling, blindfolded and wearing an orange jumpsuit similar to those issued to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Kim's shoulders were heaving, his mouth open and moving as if he were gulping air and sobbing. Five hooded and armed men stood behind him, one with a big knife slipped in his belt.
One of the masked men read a statement addressed to the Korean people: "This is what your hands have committed. Your army has not come here for the sake of Iraqis, but for cursed America." South Korea is a U.S. ally in Iraq.
Al-Jazeera did not show the actual beheading, saying it was too graphic.
American troops found Kim's body between Baghdad and Fallujah, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Shin Bong-kil said. It was identified by a photograph sent by e-mail to the South Korean Embassy.
The killing and kidnapping was claimed by al-Zarqawi's group, Tawhid and Jihad.
The grisly killing followed the similar slayings of Berg and American helicopter technician Paul M. Johnson Jr., 49, who was beheaded by al-Qaida militants in Saudi Arabia. An al-Qaida group claiming responsibility posted an Internet message that showed photographs of Johnson's severed head.
Also Tuesday, two American soldiers were killed and another wounded in an attack on a convoy near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. The dean of the University of Mosul law school was murdered in another attack against the country's intellectual elite. Gunmen also killed two Iraqi women working as translators for British forces in Basra, Iraqi officials said.
In other developments:
- Iraqi engineers said they had resumed pumping crude oil through an export pipeline between northern Iraq and Turkey that was attacked last month. Officials with the State Oil Marketing Organization said they were unaware the pipeline was back up.
- Top followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rejected an invitation to join a national conference that will select a council to advise Iraq's interim government.
- NATO allies at a summit in Turkey this weekend will consider a request from Allawi for training and other technical assistance but not troops, an alliance spokesman said.