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Militants behead Brit hostage

Kenneth Bigley
Kenneth Bigley

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Islamic militants in Iraq have beheaded hostage Kenneth Bigley, the British Embassy and his family said Friday, bringing a tragic end to the three-week effort to save the Briton's life.

A videotape purported to show the beheading was released to news organizations. The tape shows Bigley in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in front of six armed men, Reuters reported.

After the 62-year-old engineer read a statement, one of the men pulled a knife from his belt and sawed off Bigley's head as three men held him down, the news agency said.

In Liverpool, Bigley's younger brother, Philip, expressed the family's grief in a statement on nationwide television.

"The family here in Liverpool believes that our government did all it possibly could to secure the release of Ken in this impossible situation," he said. "The horror of these final days will haunt us forever. Our only consolation is that Ken is now at peace, away from those who are capable of such atrocities."

Kenneth Bigley's older brother, Paul, has harshly criticized British Prime Minister Tony Blair and has emerged as a rallying figure for Britons advocating the withdrawal of the country's troops from Iraq.

Blair, returning from a two-day trip to Africa, expressed shock over the slaying.

"I feel utter revulsion at the people that did this, not just at the barbaric nature of the killing but the way, frankly, they have played with the situation over the last few weeks," he said.

Such actions, he said, "whether in Iraq or elsewhere, should not prevail over people like Kenneth Bigley, who, after all, only wanted to make Iraq and the world a better place."

Bigley's execution promises to intensify the chill felt by Baghdad's besieged and dwindling foreign community, further hampering reconstruction efforts.

The growing threat of home invasions has forced some companies, nongovernmental groups and media organizations to leave the country or abandon their residences in favor of theoretically more secure hotels. On Thursday, the Ishtar Hotel, home to a number of Westerners and surrounded by walls and checkpoints, was the target of two rockets that caused no casualties.

Many U.S. contractors and international organizations have sought shelter in the heavily fortified Green Zone area of central Baghdad, which houses the U.S. and British embassies and Iraqi government offices. But even that citadel has proved vulnerable to insurgent attack. Mortar shells rain down on the area daily, and a bomb was discovered and defused Thursday inside a popular restaurant known as the Green Zone Cafe.

Bigley's execution ends the high-profile campaign for his release. The British government, which maintained that it would not offer concessions to the kidnappers, facilitated several indirect appeals. These included distributing fliers in Baghdad bearing the hostage's picture, running advertisements in local media and supporting a delegation from the Muslim Council of Britain that visited Iraq.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who visited Baghdad on Tuesday and Wednesday, called the killing "inhuman" and confirmed that British officials had established contact with Bigley's captors through an unnamed intermediary earlier this week.

As in previous messages, the captors demanded the release of all women jailed by U.S. and British authorities in Iraq, though officials maintained that only two—top scientists in Saddam Hussein's regime—were being held.

"Messages were exchanged with the hostage-takers in an attempt to dissuade them from carrying out their threat to kill Mr. Bigley," Straw said in a statement. "But at no stage did they abandon their demands relating to the release of women prisoners, even though they were aware that there are no women prisoners in our custody in Iraq."

Bigley was abducted Sept. 16, along with Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong, from a home in the upscale Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour. The three contractors were later shown in a video blindfolded in front of armed men claiming to be supporters of Jordanian insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Videotapes surfaced in the ensuing days depicting the beheadings of Hensley and Armstrong. But Bigley remained alive, while his captors released a disturbing pair of videos showing him pleading for Blair to accede to their demands.

Bigley had returned to an engineering career after the death of a teenage son in 1986 and worked for his brother, Paul, on projects in several Middle East countries. He was known to have shunned security measures while traveling around Iraq.

In their fierce campaign for his freedom, his family made several television appeals on Arabic television stations, often speaking of Bigley's sympathy for Middle Eastern people and culture.

Elsewhere in Iraq, one U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded Friday when insurgents fired on their patrol in Tuz, about 100 miles north of the capital. The U.S. Army also announced the death of a soldier from wounds suffered Oct. 1 in a roadside bombing in southwestern Baghdad. Names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of their families, the military statement said.

In Ramadi, an insurgent redoubt about 60 miles west of the capital, a midafternoon explosion heavily damaged a building that housed the local branch of the Red Crescent Society. A statement from the U.S. Marines blamed the attack on local insurgents seeking to pin responsibility on American forces.