American kidnapped and three headless bodies found in Iraq

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The Independent Online

Gunmen kidnapped a second American contractor within 48 hours from his home in Baghdad yesterday, and three headless corpses were found along an approach route to the Green Zone, the heart of US power in Iraq. As beheadings, abductions and bombings continued unabated, insurgents also released a video of an Iraqi army officer being decapitated.

Gunmen kidnapped a second American contractor within 48 hours from his home in Baghdad yesterday, and three headless corpses were found along an approach route to the Green Zone, the heart of US power in Iraq. As beheadings, abductions and bombings continued unabated, insurgents also released a video of an Iraqi army officer being decapitated.

Neither Iraqi nor American officials could confirm the identities of the three dead men found under a heavily guarded suspension bridge leading towards the Green Zone.

Six men, including the first American, a Nepalese and a Filipino, were abducted from the affluent al-Mansour district on Monday by a group armed with semi-automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers who stormed the offices of a Saudi Arabian company.

In the early hours of yesterday morning the second US national, of Lebanese background, was seized in the same area. The victim, identified as Radim Sadeq, who worked for a mobile-telephone company, was taken hostage after he answered his front door, an Interior Ministry spokesman said last night.

Further details have emerged of the latest video showing the kidnapped aid worker Margaret Hassan, which was received by the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera. Only a short piece was put on air because it was judged to be too harrowing. Mrs Hassan, the head in Iraq of the charity Care International, is seen to collapse during the footage while reading from a statement. According to the television station, Mrs Hassan's captors have threatened to hand her over to a group headed by the Jordanian militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, unless British troops are withdrawn from Iraq within 48 hours. The fighters, who have renamed themselves al-Qa'ida in Iraq, have carried out a number of beheadings.

The Iraqi officer whose murder was shown on video was Major Hussein Shanoun. He had been kidnapped by insurgents 10 days ago in the city of Mosul.

Four Jordanian truck drivers were also kidnapped and two shot dead near the city of Ramadi in western Iraq, where American forces are engaged in an intensive military campaign against Sunni militants.

Insurgents also continued with their campaign of killing Iraqi officials. Two days after the deputy governor of Baghdad was assassinated, on the first day of voter registration for elections scheduled in January, Hussein Ali al-Fattal, one of the most senior executives in the oil ministry, was shot dead on his way to work. The previous day, insurgents had blown up an oil pipeline and an oil well in northern Iraq, which has shut down oil exports from the region for the next 10 days.

A car bomb hit a bus taking workers to Baghdad airport, a road which has become one of the most dangerous in the country, injuring nine people. Two workers were killed and their bus set alight in a previous attack two weeks ago. Meanwhile, American warplanes continued their attacks on the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. The strikes are now taking place during the day as well as at night. It is widely expected that, with the US elections over, the long-awaited offensive to capture the city will begin soon. Tony Blair, speaking in the Commons, urged insurgents in Fallujah to lay down their weapons.

The US military said that operations on the ground had continued without a break for 12 hours, much of it on the Fallujah to Ramadi road through which many resistance fighters have fled the American cordon around the city. More than 80 per cent of Fallujah's population of 300,000 are believed to have fled by now.

Ahmed Ibrahim Sadeh, a teacher, who arrived in Baghdad yesterday morning, said: "All the shops are closed and those who could leave have left. The resistance seem to have lots of weapons, and they have been coming in despite all the American checkpoints. The weapons are said to be coming from the south, from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Shias in the south are letting them through.

"The Americans have not prevented people from leaving. The mujahedin inside the city say they do not expect to live, but they want to kill as many of the invaders as possible."

* Hungary will withdraw its 300 non-combat troops from Iraq by the end of March, its new prime minister said yesterday, dealing a blow to President George Bush's efforts to hold the multinational force together.

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