-- A militant group run by a Jordanian-born insurgent released a videotape showing its members killing three men identified as Turkish hostages, according to al-Jazeera television, which broadcast portions of the tape on Thursday.
Shortly afterward, police near the city of Samarra said they had discovered the bodies of two slain Turkish citizens and an unidentified man. It was not immediately clear whether the three bodies belonged to the men shown in the video.
The broadcast and the discovery of the bodies occurred two days after a radical Islamic Web site aired video images of 12 Nepalese hostages being killed by their captors.
Al-Jazeera said it had received a statement claiming responsibility for the killing of the three Turks from Monotheism and Holy War, a group run by Abu Musab Zarqawi, one of the most sought-after militants in Iraq who is accused of a string of bombings, kidnappings and other attacks. The station broadcast only part of the video showing three men sitting on the floor with three masked men standing behind them.
A printed statement shown on the video read, in part: "The time of forgiveness has gone. You have nothing left but killing and beheading."
Despite the killing of the Turks and the Nepalese, a team of French envoys expressed hope that they would be able to free two kidnapped French journalists held by an extremist Sunni Muslim group.
"We are optimistic and confident that they will be released soon," Mohamed Bichari, vice president of the French Muslim Council, told reporters at a news conference here after a meeting with leaders of the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of influential Sunni clerics.
The journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, were kidnapped Aug. 19 as they traveled from Baghdad to Najaf to cover fighting there.
A spokesman for the French Embassy in Baghdad said the French ambassador, Bernard Bajolet, received confirmation on Thursday that the journalists were alive and well. The spokesman declined to provide further details.
Although the French government has refused to overturn a ban on Muslim head scarves in public schools as demanded by the captors, it has mounted an intense diplomatic effort to free the two journalists.
The editor of the French newspaper Le Figaro told a French radio station Thursday that the kidnapped journalists had been handed over to a group of militants said to favor their release according to the Reuters news agency.
"The latest information is that Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot have been handed over by the Islamic Army in Iraq to an Iraqi Sunni guerrilla group . . . that we know for a few days now has been in favor of the release of the hostages," the editor, Jean de Belot, said on France-Info radio, according to Reuters.