4th hostage killed in Iraq since April

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq - Islamic militants beheaded a South Korean hostage yesterday after Seoul refused their demands to drop its plan to send troops to Iraq. Hours later, the U.S. military said it launched an airstrike on a house in Fallujah that sheltered members of the militant group that killed the hostage.

Kim Sun Il's body was found by a U.S. patrol between Baghdad and Fallujah, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said. The Arab satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera aired a videotape of Kim, kneeling and blindfolded, as five masked men stood behind him. One captor read a statement and gestured toward Kim with his right hand; another wore a large knife tucked under his belt.


"This is what your hands have committed," the man said in a slow, deliberate tone, addressing the South Korean government. "We warned you, and you have ignored us. We have heard enough of your lies. Your army has not come here for the sake of Iraqis, but for the cursed America."

Al-Jazeera did not show Kim's beheading, but a spokesman said there was a scene on the tape that showed one of the men cutting off Kim's head with a knife.


Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military's top spokesman in Iraq, confirmed that American troops had found Kim's body. "It appears that the body had been thrown from a vehicle," he said in a statement. "The man had been beheaded, and the head was recovered with the body."

After news of Kim's death broke, South Korean television showed Kim's distraught family weeping and rocking back and forth in grief at their home in the southeastern port city of Busan.

For two days, the hostage drama had played out to its tragic conclusion on Korean television. In footage that was aired constantly, a terrified Kim screamed for his life. Live coverage from inside his family's home showed his distraught parents begging captors to spare him.

"My heart breaks and my breathing stops when I think of Kim's cries," South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun said in a televised address this morning.

U.S. officials quickly blamed the killing on an al-Qaida-linked group led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Both the tape showing Kim's beheading and the earlier tape in which Kim pleaded for his life featured a black banner with the group's name and emblem. U.S. officials say al-Zarqawi beheaded American hostage Nicholas Berg last month.

Last night, a U.S. warplane fired missiles on what the military called a "known Zarqawi network" safe house in Fallujah. Three people were killed and nine wounded, said a doctor at Fallujah Hospital.

It was the second airstrike against a suspected militant hide-out in the Sunni Muslim city in less than a week. On Saturday, a U.S. warplane destroyed a house in the city, killing at least 16 people. While U.S. officials insisted that militants were targeted, Iraqis said most of those killed were civilians, including women and children.

Kimmitt would not say whether the timing was related to Kim's beheading. "Wherever and whenever we find elements of the al-Zarqawi network, we will attack them," he said.


President Bush condemned the beheading and urged South Korean leaders not to change their decision to dispatch 3,000 troops this summer to help in reconstruction projects in northern Iraq. "The free world cannot be intimidated by the brutal action of these barbaric people," Bush said.

After Kim's death was confirmed, South Korea convened its National Security Council before dawn to discuss the government's reaction, said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. Later, the government reaffirmed plans to keep its 600 troops in Iraq and send 3,000 more by August.

Kim, 33, had worked in Iraq for a year as an Arabic translator for a South Korean company supplying goods to the U.S. Army. He was taken hostage Thursday near Fallujah.

Since violence intensified in early April, dozens of foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq, especially in and around Fallujah. Most have been freed, but at least four have been killed.

On the first tape sent to Al-Jazeera by his captors on Sunday, Kim pleaded with his government to end its involvement in Iraq. "I don't want to die, I don't want to die," he shouted desperately.

U.S. officials also blame al-Zarqawi for a series of car bombings and assassinations of Iraqi political leaders in the past year. They say his supporters plan to step up their attacks to disrupt the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to Iraq.


Elsewhere in Iraq, two U.S. soldiers were killed and one was wounded yesterday when their vehicle came under fire in Balad. A car bomb exploded in a neighborhood near Baghdad International Airport, killing three Iraqis, including a 3-year-old girl, and wounding six others.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, 840 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations. Since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 702 U.S. soldiers have died.

Latest identifications

Marine Staff Sgt. Marvin Best, 33, Prosser, Wash.; died Sunday of wounds suffered in an attack in Anbar province; assigned to 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force; Twentynine Palms, Calif.


Marine Pfc. Sean Horn, 19, Orange, Calif.; died Saturday in a nonhostile incident at Camp Taqaddum; assigned to Combat Service Support Group 11, 1st Force Service Support Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force; Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Army Spc. Thai Vue, 22, Willows, Calif.; died Friday in a mortar attack in Baghdad; assigned to the 127th Military Police Company, 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, V Corps; Hanau, Germany.

Associated Press