Al-Qaida holds South Korean hostage

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Arab satellite TV network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape Sunday purportedly from al-Qaida-linked militants 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 al-Zarqawi, gave South Korea 24 hours from sunset Sunday to meet its demand or “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.

The video came two days after news of the beheading of American hostage Paul Johnson by al-Qaida-linked militants in Saudi Arabia, and an announcement Friday by South Korea that it will send 3,000 soldiers to northern Iraq beginning in early August. Once the deployment is complete, South Korea will be the largest coalition partner in Iraq after the United States and Britain.

The South Korean deputy foreign minister said Sunday night that there was no change in the decision to send the troops.

After showing the hostage’s plea, the tape showed him 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 group identified itself as Monotheism and Jihad; its purported leader, al-Zarqawi, is a Jordanian-born terrorist linked to al-Qaida. Al-Zarqawi’s group claimed responsibility for the videotaped beheading last month of American businessman Nicholas Berg.

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