S. Korean Worker Slain by Kidnappers in Iraq
By Anthony Faiola and Joohee Cho
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 22, 2004; 5:36 PM
SEOUL, June 23 (Wednesday) -- Militants described by U.S. officials as having links to al Qaeda carried out their threat to behead a South Korean hostage in Iraq after the government in Seoul rejected their demands to withdraw from international military forces there, the South Korean government said Wednesday.
The remains of Kim Sun Il, a slightly built 33-year-old translator for a South Korean contractor in Iraq, who was shown terrified and screaming for his life in a video released by his captors on Sunday, was discovered on a roadside 35 miles west of Baghdad by U.S. military patrols Tuesday evening local time. In a nationally televised news conference early Wednesday in Seoul, dejected South Korean officials informed the public that the body had been identified through an e-mailed photo of his remains sent to Seoul's embassy in Baghdad.
A banner in the background of the video named Kim's abductors as members of Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad (Monotheism and Jihad). The group is associated with Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian accused of having links to al Qaeda and blamed by U.S. officials for several recent kidnappings and car bombings in Iraq.
Kim's public ordeal ended just as it had begun; on the Arab-language satellite television channel al-Jazeera. The network on Sunday had broadcast the video showing Kim's captors giving Seoul until sundown Monday to comply with demands to withdraw from international military forces in Iraq or prepare to "receive the head of this Korean." After those demands were dismissed, and a deadline of sundown Monday had passed, another tape sent and broadcast by al-Jazeera during the early Wednesday morning hours in Seoul showed a panicked Kim's last fearful minutes, clad in an orange jumpsuit similar to those issued to U.S. prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Standing behind Kim in the latest video were five hooded men, one of whom read a statement. Another wore a large knife on his belt.
The speaker blamed South Korean citizens for not doing enough to pressure their government to pull out of Iraq.
"This is what your hands have committed," he said. "Your army has not come here for the sake of Iraqis, but to serve the cursed America."
The video as aired by al-Jazeera did not show Kim being beheaded, but the station said the killing was carried out.
In Washington, President Bush said he hopes that South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun "would understand that the free world cannot be intimidated by the brutal actions of these barbaric people."
At a photo opportunity at the White House with the visiting Hungarian prime minister, Bush said, "They are trying to get us to withdraw from the world so they can impose their dark vision on people. . . . In order to impose their vision, they want us to leave. They want us to cower in the face of their brutal killings. And the United States will not be intimidated by these people."
Earlier, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "There simply is no justification for those kinds of atrocities that the terrorists carry out." He said that "the barbaric nature of the terrorists" was shown by the recent beheading of an American civilian, Paul Johnson, in Saudi Arabia by a group connected with al Qaeda.
South Korea currently maintains 660 non-combat troops in Iraq, mostly military medics and engineers building roads and assisting the wounded. A broader dispatch of 3,000 additional troops is scheduled to begin in August -- a move that will make South Korea the largest foreign force in Iraq after the U.S. and Great Britain. South Korean officials maintained their commitment to send those troops on Wednesday.
The death appeared to shock this nation, where optimism had risen Tuesday amid reports that Iraqi clerics had intervened on Kim's behalf. Officials in Seoul said they believed the kidnappers had extended the deadline, and top officials had taken to Arabic language airwaves Tuesday to stress South Korea's mission was one of peace. A high-level mission was in the region desperately seeking Kim's release.
South Korea's semi-official Yonhap news service reported that Lee Jong Seok, head of the South Korea's National Security Council secretariat, briefed Roh on the death of the Korean hostage at about 1:00 a.m. Wednesday. The president appeared to have been stunned by the news, Yonhap said, given that he received an upbeat briefing by Vice Foreign Minister Choi Young Jin on Kim's prospects for release a few hours earlier.
"Overall, Iraqi people and the press and their government understand that our dispatch was not for combat and they welcomed us, but obviously, some had different perspectives," Lin Hong Jae, South Korea's ambassador to Iraq, told reporters in Seoul by telephone. "We tried very hard to negotiate through various channels such as the U.S. and Iraqi religious leaders. . . . W held out hope until the last minute."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company