More Hostage Beheadings

Militants Show the Beheading of 3 Kurdish Hostages (NYT)

A militant group on Sunday posted a gruesome Internet video showing the beheading of three men said to be members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of two major Kurdish political parties in Iraq. A statement by the group, the Army of Ansar al-Sunna, that was posted along with the video said the bodies of the men had been left on a road to the northern city of Mosul. That seemed to indicate that they could be the headless bodies discovered by American soldiers on Wednesday near Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. The statement identified the men as truck drivers captured in an ambush near Taji, 15 miles north of Baghdad, as they were transporting vehicles to an American base. The video shows in low-resolution black and white a close-up shot of each of the three men as they state their names in Kurdish. A man wearing shorts, his face off screen, then takes a large knife to each of their necks and vigorously slices off their heads as blood pours onto the ground. After each killing, he places the bloody head on the back of each body.

The Army of Ansar al-Sunna has proven to be ruthless with its captives in the past. In late August, it released a video showing the killings of 12 Nepalese truck drivers. The first driver was beheaded, and the rest were shot in the head. The statement posted with the most recent beheadings accused Massoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the other major Kurdish party, of serving the interests of Jews and Christians. “They sent some of the scum of disbelievers to fight God’s soldiers, and here are their defeated brigades,” the militants wrote in the statement. They added that they were beheading the truck drivers to teach the Kurdish leaders “a lesson not to be forgotten.” The Army of Ansar al-Sunna is an offshoot of Ansar al-Islam, a militant group made up mostly of Kurds that adhered to a strict fundamentalist form of Islam and fought the militia of the two Kurdish parties from a mountain redoubt in northern Iraq.


More than 135 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, many of them drivers transporting goods for the occupation forces or the interim government. Kidnappings are generally done for money, and most of those abducted have been released. But in several cases, the hostages have been killed by militant groups, and their executions shown in excruciating detail on Arabic-language television or on Internet sites. On Saturday, a group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant, released a video showing two American engineers and a Briton who had been abducted earlier in the week. The insurgents said the men would be killed within 48 hours if women held in two American prison camps were not freed. The fate of two kidnapped Italian relief workers remains unknown. Two kidnapped French journalists were scheduled to be freed to report on the activities of the insurgents, according to statements released Saturday by the Islamic Army of Iraq. The French government has yet to confirm that the journalists will be released.

Captors Say 2 Americans Will Die Today Unless Demands Met
(USA Today/Reuters)

Several insurgent groups set deadlines for killing more than 21 hostages in Iraq — among them two Americans, one Briton and 18 Iraqi soldiers — unless their demands are met. Violence over the past two weeks, including the new spate of abductions, has claimed the lives of hundreds of people and raised doubts that elections scheduled for January will go ahead. But Iraq’s leaders and members of the U.S.-led coalition have vowed the vote will be held on time and they will crush the insurgency. On Sunday, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi called the latest attacks and hostage-takings acts of desperation. But the abductions have had an effect on reconstruction and aid work in Iraq. Most foreign aid groups have withdrawn from the country, and many contractors have responded to kidnappers’ threats by vowing to stop working with the coalition.

One militant group said Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong and Briton Kenneth Bigley would be killed today unless female prisoners were freed. Internet video footage showed the hostages and a gunman who said the Tawhid and Jihad group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be an al-Qaeda ally, would kill them unless Iraqi women were freed from Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr prisons. The U.S. military said no women were held at either prison. Only two are acknowledged to be in U.S. custody in Iraq. Dubbed “Dr. Germ†and “Mrs. Anthrax†by U.S. forces, they are accused of working on weapons programs for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Another group threatened to kill 10 workers from a U.S.-Turkish firm if their company failed to leave the country within three days. The wave of hostage-taking spread to Iraq’s security forces. A militant Islamic group said it would kill 18 Iraqi national guardsmen unless authorities free an aide to Shiite rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr within 48 hours, Arab television Al-Jazeera said Sunday.

Al-Jazeera showed a video of masked gunmen and a group of uniformed men it said were 18 members of the national guard. The Iraqi force has come under attack from insurgents who see the guardsmen as collaborators with the U.S.-led occupying forces. The kidnappers demanded the release of al-Sadr aide Hazem al-Araji, also a cleric. Al-Sadr’s supporters in Baghdad said U.S. forces seized Araji overnight in the Iraqi capital. There was no firm word on the fate of two French journalists and two Italian female aid workers who also were being held hostage.

Of course, kidnappings aren’t the only form of terrorism used by the insurgents:

Zarqawi Seen As Suicide Recruiter (Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times)

Abu Musab Zarqawi, the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq, has been increasingly successful at recruiting foreign suicide bombers into the country, who are quickly assigned a bomb-ladened vehicle to kill coalition members and civilians, according to senior military officials. The officials also said a profitable market for kidnapped Westerners has emerged, adding to the violence in Iraq, as criminal gangs snatch hostages and then market them like a commodity to various Islamic jihadist groups. Despite months of fighting an insurgency that erupted last fall, military leaders said the number of attacks in September show an increase, compared with early August, but they do not have a good enough handle on the enemy to say whether it is weaker or stronger than a year ago. Zarqawi’s murderous ways were underscored again last week when a suicide bomber parked a car in a busy Iraqi market and pushed the ignition switch. The massive explosion killed 47 Iraqis, the worst car bombing in Baghdad since March. “It’s clear this is Zarqawi doing these types of things to the Iraqi people,” said Rear Adm. Gregory Slavonic, a spokesman for the U.S. command in Iraq. “Zarqawi is doing the car bombings. I think he is getting more people to drive these cars who believe in his cause, and the more people you can get who believe in the cause that he has espoused to them, you can get the frequency up.”

Suicide bombers have another advantage. When they blow themselves up, they leave no potential of capturing a Zarqawi operative who could provide information on the terrorist’s organization and its links to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network. “It’s hard to interrogate drivers, because they’re not usually around to talk,” Adm. Slavonic said. Without many captives, U.S. officials have limited knowledge of Zarqawi’s cells. He relies on foreign jihadists to heed his call to come to Iraq and enlist as suicide bombers. In some cases, he can place them in a car and give them a target within days of their arrival. The exact size of his organization is unknown, but is believed to number several hundred. A Pentagon official said that at one point this summer, commanders estimated there were about 2,000 anti-coalition operatives inside Iraq representing various terror networks or criminal enterprises. Former U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer told The Washington Timesthis summer that a captured Zarqawi bomber who failed to detonate his bomb provided some useful inside information. “They are non-Iraqis,” Mr. Bremer said of the Zarqawi group. “They tend to be from Yemen. Or Sudan. Some Saudis. We haven’t captured a lot of them. We captured some. So we have some insight into the organization. It’s a professional terrorists organization. It’s well-done. “They have cellular structure, so information doesn’t flow very widely. Makes it difficult to penetrate. Even if you penetrate, you don’t get much information beyond the cell you’ve penetrated. It’s a very professional operation. Very dangerous. They are clearly responsible for almost all, if not all, the suicide attacks.”

Authorities believes Zarqawi bases his operation in the rebel-infested city of Fallujah, where the United States regularly identifies a terrorist safe house and destroys it with precision bombings. Zarqawi moves around Iraq frequently and may go in and out of Jordan, his home country.
He has access to sizable sums of money that are moving into Iraq to fund his cells, as well as former members of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The latter problem, while far from simple, is far easier than the former. Clearly, the attempt to settle the uprisings in Fallujah using a Kerryesque “sensitive” approach has been a disaster. Wresting control of the city from the terrorists simply has to be done if order is to be established and elections held on schedule in January. That’s not to say that truck bombings couldn’t continue even if that were done, but taking out the planning and financial center would presumably cut down on them.

The kidnapping problem would seem almost intractable. Aside from not capitulating to the terrorists’ demands, including a steadfast refusal not to negotiate with them, and swift and brutal retaliation if they are caught, I’m not sure what can be done.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. carpeicthus says:

    Slamming Kerry for the diasaster in Fallujah? That may be the most disingenuous thing I’ve seen you say. I’d say the fuck-up was Bush-eque, since he was the dolt that actually did it.

  2. James Joyner says:

    It was largely a decision made “on the ground,” as they say. But, sure, Bush gets the blame for it since he’s in charge. My point is that we’d get much more of that kind of thing with a President Kerry, trying to take the most expedience course on everything.