Group: New Al Qaeda in Iraq Leader Killed GIs

The new leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq killed two U.S. soldiers whom the group abducted last week, an insurgent umbrella group said in a Web statement posted Tuesday.

The statement, which could not be authenticated, said the two soldiers were "slaughtered," suggesting they had been beheaded by Abu Hamza al-Muhajer. The Arabic word used in the statement, "nahr," is used for the slaughtering of sheep by cutting the throat and has been used in past statements to refer to beheadings.

The claim of responsibility was posted on an Islamic militant Web site where insurgent groups regularly post statements.

If true, it would be the first act of violence attributed to al-Muhajer since he was named Al Qaeda in Iraq's new leader in a June 12 Web message by the group. He succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike on June 7.

Al-Zarqawi made Al Qaeda in Iraq notorious for hostage beheadings and was believed to have killed two American captives himself.

U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the military has recovered what are believed to be the remains of two missing soldiers, but said the cause of death was "undeterminable at this point." An Iraqi military official said the bodies showed signs of torture and were killed in a barbaric way.

The statement in the name of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, said: "We give the good news ... to the Islamic nation that we have carried God's verdict by slaughtering the two captured crusaders."

"With God Almighty's blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer carried out the verdict of the Islamic court" for the soldier's slaying, the statement said.

The statement did not indicate whether any video of the killings would be released.

The U.S. military has identified al-Muhajer as an Egyptian associate of al-Zarqawi. He is also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

Attributing the slayings to al-Muhajer could be an attempt to build up the image of the new leader.

Al-Zarqawi had been praised by followers as "the slaughtering sheik" for the videos of hostage beheadings his group issued on the Web. Al-Zarqawi is believed to have appeared in two of those videos, killing Americans Nicholas Berg in April 2004 and Eugene Armstrong in September 2004.

Kidnappings of U.S. service members have been rare since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, despite the presence of about 130,000 forces.

The last U.S. soldier to be captured was Sgt. Keith M. Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, who was taken on April 9, 2004 after insurgents ambushed his fuel convoy. Two months later, a tape on Al-Jazeera purported to show a captive U.S. soldier shot, but the Army ruled it was inconclusive and Maupin remains listed as missing.