Al-Qa'ida group kills Bulgarian hostage

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The Independent Online

A militant group, reputedly led by a key al-Qa'ida ally, has executed a Bulgarian hostage in Iraq and warned that it will kill a second Bulgarian within 24 hours unless the US-led coalition freed dozens of prisoners, al-Jazeera reported last night.

A militant group, reputedly led by a key al-Qa'ida ally, has executed a Bulgarian hostage in Iraq and warned that it will kill a second Bulgarian within 24 hours unless the US-led coalition freed dozens of prisoners, al-Jazeera reported last night.

The Arabic satellite television network said it had received a videotape of the execution, but had decided not to air the footage because it was too gruesome. Instead, al-Jazeera showed pictures of three masked men with one of the Bulgarians kneeling in front of them in a blindfold and an orange jumpsuit.

The images recalled those of Nicholas Berg, an American engineer, whose beheading in May was videotaped and posted on a militant Islamic website.

Assuming it is true, the report suggests foreign insurgents operating in Iraq are intensifying their campaign to intimidate foreign troops and foreign workers into pulling out of the country.

The execution, apparently carried out by the al-Tawhid and Jihad Group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, came hours after the Philippines government indicated it might pull out its 51 troops from Iraq to save the life of a Filipino lorry driver being held hostage by insurgents.

In an interview with al- Jazeera, Manila's Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Seguis said the contingent would leave "swiftly". His words dismayed the US. "We are disappointed to see remarks like this, when Iraq is fighting for stability and peace," Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said last night.

Angelo de la Cruz, a 46-year-old father of eight, was kidnapped on 7 July. His captors are demanding that Manila withdraw by Tuesday, a month ahead of the scheduled departure date.

But Bulgaria has made it clear that it will not pull out its 470-strong force. The two captives have been identified as Georgi Lazov and Ivailo Kepov, who disappeared on June 27 when they were transporting a consignment of cars from Baghdad to the northern city of Mosul.

Militants holding an Egyptian driver hostage in Iraq last night threatened to kill him within 72 hours if the Saudi company he works for does not leave the country. Al-Jazeera showed ominous images of Mohammed al-Gharabawi kneeling in front of two armed men.

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