BAGHDAD, Iraq – A militant group in Iraq (search) claimed in an Internet statement posted Saturday that it abducted and beheaded an Iraqi construction contractor who worked on a U.S. military base. A video released with the statement showed a man being decapitated.
A different militant group claiming to have kidnapped two Indonesian women in Iraq demanded on Saturday the release of an Indonesian cleric jailed in his home country. But the cleric refused to be freed in an exchange, saying hostage-taking is not in keeping with Islam (search).
Another video broadcast Saturday on the Al-Arabiya network showed a man purported to be a Jordanian hostage. An announcer said the hostage appeared surrounded by gunmen threatening to kill him within 72 hours unless his company stopped cooperating with U.S. forces.
Meanwhile, in another, ongoing hostage drama, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Saturday private initiatives to free two French journalists kidnapped last month had frustrated the government's own negotiations with the captors.
The report of the beheading came in a statement posted on the Internet Saturday by the Ansar al-Sunnah Army (search). The group said it killed Barie Nafie Dawoud Ibrahim, who was described as "one of the biggest contractors," working on water, sewage and air conditioning projects at the U.S. military base Al-Taji north of Baghdad.
The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.
The statement was released with a video showing a man identified as Ibrahim, who was dressed in a white T-shirt and black pants, holding up an identification card giving him access to the American base.
Then someone — his hands alone visible in the footage — beheaded the man and placed his severed head on his back.
The statement said after interrogation Ibrahim had "confessed to all the work and projects he had carried out at al-Taji ... After that the (holy fighters) executed God's law by slaughtering him." The group vowed to track down those working for U.S. troops "one after the other."
The Ansar al-Sunnah Army has also claimed responsibility for killing 12 Nepalese workers and three Iraqi Kurds.
More than 140 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since April by a spectrum of groups, with some holding them for ransom and others setting political conditions for their release. At least 26 hostages have been killed.
Arab TV station Al-Jazeera showed footage Thursday of 10 hostages seized by a militant group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq. The hostages included two Lebanese, six Iraqis and two Indonesian women, Rosidah binti Anan and Rafikan binti Aming. It was unclear when the 10 were seized.
Al-Jazeera said Saturday it had received a written statement from the group demanding Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir be released.
Bashir, who Washington says is a terror mastermind in Southeast Asia, has been in prison since 2002, accused of heading the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiya group. He was arrested three weeks after the Bali bombings killed 202 people that year.
On Saturday, the slender, white-bearded preacher — an admirer of Usama bin Laden — castigated the kidnappers in Iraq as un-Islamic and said he would not be part of any exchange.
"I cannot justify this kidnapping. I demand that they be freed as Islam does not condone taking hostages of Muslim sisters and brothers," Bashir said in response to questions by The Associated Press.
"If the captors are Muslim, they truly do not understand Islam." Bashir's voice was recorded and a copy of the recording was smuggled out of prison.
Bashir's attorney, Muhammad Assegaf, said Bashir wants to fight the charges against him in court and refuses to be released in such circumstances.
Indonesian police have dropped plans to charge Bashir in the Bali bombings. Prosecutors say they now plan to charge him with heading Jemaah Islamiyah and for the bombing last year of the Jakarta JW Marriott hotel, in which 12 people were killed. Bashir has repeatedly denied involvement in terrorism or being linked to the group.
The Islamic Army in Iraq has also claimed responsibility for kidnapping the French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot who disappeared with their Syrian driver on Aug. 20.
The group demanded that France revoke a new law banning Islamic head scarves from state schools. The law, which also covers other conspicuous religious apparel such as Jewish skull caps and large Christian crosses, went into effect as planned.
The French foreign minister said Saturday his government had established reliable contacts with the kidnappers on Sept. 18 and got proof the French hostages "were alive and being treated well."
But contacts were interrupted 10 days later because of parallel, private efforts to win the reporters' release, Barnier said at a news conference in Rome. A French lawmaker, Didier Julia, went to the Middle East on what he and French authorities said was an unofficial mission to seek the men's freedom.
In a separate videotape aired by the Al-Arabiya network Saturday, a Jordanian hostage identified himself as Hisham Talab al-Eza, an employee of the Star Line Company, which does transportation contracting for the U.S. military. It was unclear when al-Eza was kidnapped or which group abducted him.
In the tape, al-Eza appealed to the president of the company "to close the company's offices in Iraq for the sake of Iraqis' interests and to protect the lives of our employees there."