South Korea's president strongly condemned the beheading of a South Korean hostage in Iraq but remained determined to send more troops, saying they were needed to help rebuild the country.
President Roh Moo-hyun (search) rejected the kidnappers' claim that South Korea's plan to send 3,000 additional troops to Iraq would hurt Iraqis. The captors killed Kim Sun-il (search), a 33-year-old South Korean working in Iraq, after Seoul rejected their demand to cancel the South Korean deployment.
"The South Korean plan to send troops to Iraq is not to engage in hostilities against Iraqis or other Arab people but to help reconstruction and restoration in Iraq," Roh said in brief, nationally televised speech Wednesday morning after news of the killing stunned the country.
South Korea reaffirmed its plan to send troops after a 90-minute emergency meeting overnight of the National Security Council (search) to discuss the killing of hostage Kim, who had pleaded for his life in a video issued by his captors along with demands that Seoul halt its dispatch plan.
The pan-Arab Al-Jazeera TV station said he was beheaded; the Seoul government confirmed only that he was killed.
"I am very sorry and deeply regretful that this tragedy happened, although all the people and the government wished and prayed for the safe return of Mr. Kim Sun-il," Roh said.
The president condemned terrorism as a "crime against humanity" and pledged his government's "determination to deal sternly with it together with the international community."
"We should never tolerate terror as a means to an end," he said.
South Korea said Tuesday that the remaining 22 South Koreans doing business in Iraq would be evacuated by early July.
South Korea plans to dispatch 3,000 soldiers to northern Iraq starting in August. More than 600 South Korean military medics and engineers are already deployed in Iraq.
After news of Kim's death broke, South Korean television showed Kim's distraught family members weeping and rocking back and forth with grief at their home in the southeastern port city of Busan. In a traditional funeral rite, they laid out watermelon and other fruit on a cloth before a photograph of Kim.
A banner hanging in the street outside their home read: "The South Korean people have never fired a single bullet at Iraqis. Please send back Kim Sun-il alive."
South Korea's KBS television reported that angry residents in the neighborhood of Kim's home tore down placards that said: "Koreans are friends of the Iraqis."
Al-Jazeera, which said it received a videotape showing that Kim had been executed, said the execution was carried out by the Al Qaeda-linked group Monotheism and Jihad.