S. Korean, on Video, Pleads for His Life
Hostage Urges Withdrawal From Iraq
By Robert H. Reid
Monday, June 21, 2004; Page A16
BAGHDAD, June 20 -- The Arab satellite TV network al-Jazeera aired a videotape Sunday purportedly from militants linked to al Qaeda showing a South Korean hostage begging for his life and pleading with his government to withdraw troops from Iraq.
The kidnappers, who identified themselves as belonging to a group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, gave South Korea 24 hours to meet their demand or, they said, "we will send you the head of this Korean."
"Korean soldiers, please get out of here," the man screamed in English, flailing his arms. "I don't want to die. I don't want to die. I know that your life is important, but my life is important."
South Korean media identified the hostage as Kim Sun Il, 33, an employee of South Korea's Gana General Trading Co., a supplier for the U.S. military. News station YTN said he was captured in the Fallujah area.
The video came two days after news of the beheading of American hostage Paul M. Johnson Jr. by purported al Qaeda militants in Saudi Arabia, and after an announcement Friday by South Korea that it would send 3,000 additional soldiers to Iraq beginning in early August. Once the deployment is complete, South Korea will be the largest U.S. partner in Iraq after Britain.
After the tape showed the hostage's plea, the victim was seen kneeling in front of three masked men, two of them armed with Kalashnikovs. The man standing in the middle read a statement in Arabic.
"Our message to the South Korean government and the Korean people: We first demand you withdraw your forces from our lands and not send more of your forces to this land. Otherwise, we will send to you the head of this Korean, and we will follow it by the heads of your other soldiers."
The statement gave South Korean officials 24 hours from sunset Sunday to meet the demand.
[In Seoul, South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun's National Security Council held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the kidnapping, the Reuters news agency reported.
[South Korea will go ahead with its plan to send 3,000 troops to Iraq, the foreign ministry said.]
The group identified itself as Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad; its purported leader, Zarqawi, is a Jordanian national who U.S. officials say is linked to al Qaeda. Zarqawi's group asserted responsibility for the videotaped beheading last month of American businessman Nicholas Berg.
An al-Jazeera staff member at the network headquarters in Qatar, Mohammed Saadi, said by telephone that the two-minute videotape was mailed to the al-Jazeera bureau in Baghdad.
"Our office in Baghdad received an unknown package; they opened it and they found the tape," Saadi said.
On Saturday, South Korean officials warned citizens not to travel to Iraq, saying their decision to send troops might prompt terror attacks. The warning came after news of the beheading of Johnson, although it did not mention the incident.
"At this time, we cannot rule out the possibility of harm to our nationals, following the official announcement of the additional troop dispatch to Iraq," Foreign Ministry spokesman Shin Bong Kil said in a statement.
South Korea plans to send 900 troops to Kurdish-controlled Irbil in early August, followed by about 1,100 troops between late August and early September. An additional 1,000 soldiers are to travel to Iraq later.
South Korea already has 600 military medics and engineers in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company