South Korean Hostage Likely Kidnapped in May

The South Korean (search) hostage beheaded in Iraq was likely kidnapped at the end of May and not June 17 as initially reported by his employer, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday.

Controversy about when Kim Sun-il (search) was abducted arose after an Islamic militant group made good on threats to kill him when the South Korean government refused to cancel plans to send more troops to Iraq.

In early June — before it was widely known that Kim was missing — a videotape was delivered to Associated Press Television News in which Kim says in English that he liked the Iraqi people and criticized the United States for the war in Iraq.

APTN did not broadcast the videotape because it was unclear if Kim was being held against his will. But in the first week of June AP asked the Foreign Ministry in Seoul about Kim and was told that the government had no reports of a South Korean in captivity.

Kim identifies himself as a 33-year-old math teacher on the tape. No gunmen are shown, and no demands are made. There are no signs that he was being held hostage.

Kim's predicament was clear in two videotapes that were released in the past week by his captors: one shows Kim begging for his life and screaming, "I don't want to die," and the other shows him seated in front of masked gunmen shortly before his death.

Kim's body was found between Baghdad and Fallujah (search) on Tuesday.

Kim was believed to have been killed about 14 hours earlier, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Shin Bong-kil said, citing an evaluation by a U.S. military doctor.

Shin also cited Kim's employer, Kim Chun-ho of Cana General Trading Co., as saying that Kim dropped from sight around May 31, nearly three weeks earlier than the June 17 date the employer had previously given authorities.

Kim's boss had been conducting his own search and was in contact with South Korean officials only after the death threat was aired Sunday by the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera.

The tape delivered to the APTN office in Baghdad in early June by an unidentified courier shows Kim, an employee of a supplier to the U.S. military, seated before a bare beige wall. He is alone, clean-shaven and his hair is cut short.

In the tape broadcast Sunday, Kim had a scraggly beard and his hair was much longer, indicating several weeks had passed. He was wearing a dark shirt with the words "Body Glove" written on them.

A voice off camera asks him questions, and he replies in halting English. He gives his name, says he was born Sept. 13, 1970, and gives his place of birth as Busan. When asked his occupation, he says he taught mathematics.

He says he came to Iraq about six months ago and that he wanted to study Arabic.

After this, a portion of the tape is erased. When the image returns, Kim — still in the same place, and in the same clothes — says he was at an American camp three days ago, to "deliver merchandise," including pillows and sunglasses.

He mentions his brothers and sisters, and says he is the only one in his family who is single.

Kim also describes President Bush as a "terrorist" and says the United States is "killing the Iraqi people."

"I saw George Bush attack here because of Iraqi oil," he said. "So I don't like George Bush or America."

Kim says he went to Fallujah and that the Americans searched him. He stands up, turns around and puts his hands on the wall as if he were being searched.

"I like Iraqi people. The Iraqi people are very kind," Kim said. "I think they are poor because of war."