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Zarqawi Group Beheads U.S. Hostage Armstrong

Reuters | September 20 2004

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi group led by al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi beheaded American Eugene Armstrong and posted a video of the killing on the Internet on Monday.

The hostage's body was later recovered and identified, a U.S. official in Washington told Reuters.

The video, broadcast on an Islamist site, showed a masked man sawing the construction contractor's head off with a knife.

It also showed the banner of Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group, which said it had kidnapped him along with another American and a Briton from their house in central Baghdad on Thursday. The other two now face death within 24 hours.

In the video, five armed and masked men stood around the hostage, who was blindfolded and dressed in orange overalls typical of U.S. jails and associated around the world with images of Muslims detained at Guantanamo Bay.

After reading a lengthy statement, during which the hostage sat rocking on the floor, one of the men decapitated him.

They said they had killed Armstrong because the U.S. authorities had failed to free women prisoners in Iraqi jails. They gave another day for the United States to do so, or Jack Hensley and Briton Kenneth Bigley would also be killed.

President Bush, however, vowed to keep up the pressure: "We will stay on the offensive against them," he said at an election event in Derry, New Hampshire, before the video.

"They will behead people in order to shake our will. These people are ideologues of hatred."

Tawhid and Jihad said in an Internet posting on Saturday it would kill all three men unless Iraqi women were freed from Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr jails.

The U.S. military says no women are being held in the two prisons specified, but that two are in U.S. custody. Dubbed "Dr Germ" and "Mrs Anthrax" by U.S. forces, they are accused of working on Saddam Hussein's weapons programs and are in a special prison for high-profile detainees.

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