Al-Qaeda says new leader 'beheaded' kidnapped US soldiers
"We give the good news ... to the Islamic nation that we have carried God's verdict by slaughtering the two captured crusaders. With God Almighty's blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir carried out the verdict of the Islamic court for the soldiers' killing." - MUJAHIDEEN SHURA COUNCIL STATEMENT
Story in full TWO United States soldiers missing in Iraq for three days after being kidnapped at a checkpoint have been found dead, their bodies showing signs of "barbaric" torture, it was announced yesterday.
An internet statement by al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed its new leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, had personally "slit the throats" of, or beheaded, Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, and Kristian Menchaca, 23, both privates.
The US military launched a major search involving 8,000 troops after vowing not to leave the soldiers "out there".
But yesterday, Major-General William Caldwell, a US military spokesman, said: "Coalition forces have recovered what we believe are the remains of the soldiers." He said a joint US- Iraqi force found the bodies on Monday night dumped at an electrical plant, but their recovery was delayed by having to defuse bombs planted nearby.
Major-General Abdul Aziz Mohammed, an Iraqi defence ministry official, said the bodies showed signs of "barbaric torture", but did not elaborate.
An internet statement from the Mujahideen Shura Council, which groups seven insurgent organisations, including al-Qaeda, in Iraq, said: "We give the good news ... to the Islamic nation that we have carried God's verdict by slaughtering the two captured crusaders. With God Almighty's blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir carried out the verdict of the Islamic court for the soldiers' killing."
The use of the word "slaughter" suggested the soldiers had been beheaded by Muhajir. The Arabic word nahr is used for the slaughtering of sheep by cutting the throat and has been used to refer to beheadings.
If true, it would be the first act of violence by Muhajir, an Egyptian, since he was named as al-Qaeda in Iraq's leader on 12 June. He succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a US airstrike on 7 June. Attributing the killings to Muhajir might be an attempt to build up the image of the new leader.
A spokesman for the Tucker family said yesterday that they were expecting the worst.
Pte Tucker's relatives declined to comment, but released the text of a phone message he recently left, telling his mother to be proud of him. "I'm defending my country," Pte Tucker said. "Tell Sis and my nephews hello for me. I'm OK. I'm on my way."
A member of the US army's casualty assistance office met Pte Menchaca's mother, Maria Vasquez, yesterday and said it could take two or three days for DNA tests to be completed.
Her niece, Felipa Gomez, said the family had been watching television news reports of the Iraqi military announcement. "She's hanging in there" and still holding on to hope that her son would somehow make it back alive, Ms Gomez said.
Sgt Jesus Rolnmedina, who spoke to her, said the bodies "had a lot of trauma".
Pte Menchaca's uncle, Ken MacKenzie, lashed out at the US government, saying it did not do enough to bring the men home safe. "Because the US government did not have a plan in place, my nephew has paid for it with his life," he said.
Mr MacKenzie said the government should have offered a $100 million (54 million) reward and offered to exchange Mujahideen detainees for the soldiers' lives. It had seized enough money from Saddam Hussein to afford it, he said.
The US soldiers went missing at dusk on Friday after an ambush at a checkpoint in Yusufiya, a town south of Baghdad some Iraqis call the "Triangle of Death", which is an al-Qaeda stronghold. Another soldier was killed.
The deaths dealt a blow to the US military after it killed Zarqawi on 7 June near Baquba, north-east of Baghdad. However, the US authorities yesterday said it had killed another leading al-Qaeda in Iraq figure.
A man described as the group's "religious emir" was killed in an airstrike on Monday, hours before the two soldiers went missing and in the area where their bodies were found.
Sheik Mansour al-Mashhadani, an Iraqi aged between 35 and 37, and two foreign fighters, including a cell leader identified as Abu Tariq, were killed as they were trying to escape in a vehicle near Youssifiyah.
Gen Caldwell said that Mashhadani played a key religious and recruiting role in the organisation and was tied to the senior leadership, including Muhajir.
He "reportedly served as a right-hand man of Zarqawi's, and also served as a liaison between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the various tribes in the Youssifiyah area," Gen Caldwell said.
Citing intelligence sources, the general also said Mashhadani was responsible for shooting down a coalition aircraft in the spring.
The US military captured Mashhadani in July 2004, but they let him go because he was not deemed to be an important terrorism figure at the time.
Gen Caldwell said Mashhadani joined al-Qaeda in Iraq after his release in autumn 2004. He displayed photos said to show Mashhadani with a moustache before his death and with a battered face and one eye closed after he was killed.
Another picture identified him as a masked figure sitting with Zarqawi.
A document seized from an al-Qaeda hideout and released byMouwafak al-Rubaie, a national security adviser, last week that portrayed the insurgency in Iraq as being in "bleak" shape was also directly linked to Mashhadani, Gen Caldwell said.
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