S. Korean Is Beheaded in Iraq
In Seoul, Officials Say Hostage's Slaying Will Not Deter Troop Deployment
By Jackie Spinner and Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 23, 2004; Page A01
BAGHDAD, June 23 -- Kidnappers beheaded a South Korean civilian who had been held captive since last week after the government in Seoul rejected a demand that its troops be withdrawn from the international military force in Iraq, South Korean officials said Wednesday.
U.S. soldiers found the body of Kim Sun Il, 33, at 5:20 p.m. Tuesday on the side of a road between Baghdad and Fallujah, the city west of Iraq's capital where Kim was abducted last Thursday. The South Korean Embassy in Baghdad confirmed that the body was Kim's.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said in a statement: "It appears that the body had been thrown from a vehicle. The man had been beheaded, and the head was recovered with the body."
Kim's captors, a group that identified itself as Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad, had threatened in a videotape released late Sunday to kill him unless South Korea agreed to withdraw the 660 troops it has in Iraq and cancel a planned deployment of 3,000 additional forces to northern Iraq.
In the video, Kim was shown pleading for his life. "I don't want to die. I don't want to die," Kim screamed. Pleading for South Korean soldiers to leave Iraq, he said: "I know that your life is important, but my life is important."
The South Korean government rejected the demand Monday and attempted to negotiate for Kim's release. On Tuesday, in another videotape broadcast by al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite television network, the same group said it had beheaded Kim.
The group, headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian linked by U.S. officials to al Qaeda, also asserted responsibility for the beheading last month of an American businessman, Nicholas Berg. In Saudi Arabia, a group claiming affiliation with al Qaeda said it was behind the beheading of another American, Paul M. Johnson Jr., whose decapitated corpse was found Friday on the outskirts of Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
Kim, an evangelical Christian who had studied Arabic, English and theology, was working as a translator for a South Korean contractor that provided supplies to the U.S. military in Iraq. His family said he was hoping to save enough money to fulfill his dream of becoming a missionary in the Middle East.
President Bush on Tuesday condemned the beheading as "barbaric" and said he remained confident that South Korea would go ahead with plans to send troops to Iraq. "The free world cannot be intimidated by the brutal actions of these barbaric people," Bush said.
In Seoul, the semi-official Yonhap news agency said President Roh Moo Hyun was told of Kim's slaying at about 1 a.m. Wednesday. Roh appeared stunned by the news, according to the news agency, having received an upbeat briefing on the prospects for Kim's release a few hours earlier by Vice Foreign Minister Choi Young Jin.
In brief, nationally televised remarks later Wednesday, Roh said he felt "heartbroken" over the killing but added: "We shouldn't let them achieve what they want through terrorism. We strongly denounce such an act of terror and are firmly determined to cope with it in conjunction with the international community," according to the Reuters news agency.
The death "breaks our heart," Shin Bong Kil, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in announcing Kim's death.
In the video broadcast on al-Jazeera on Tuesday, five hooded men -- two armed with guns and another with a sword -- surrounded a kneeling man, believed to be Kim. He was dressed in an orange jumpsuit similar to those worn by prisoners and blindfolded with a strip of cloth. The broadcast did not show the beheading, but a spokesman for al-Jazeera said a subsequent unaired portion of the tape showed one of the men cutting off Kim's head with a knife, Reuters reported.
On the video, one of Kim's captors delivered a message to the South Korean people, saying: "Stop lying. Stop deceiving, because your army is not here for the Iraqis. It is for the Americans."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company