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Bulgarian hostage killed in Iraq


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Al-Jazeera broadcast video of the Bulgarian hostage but did not show his death.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A Bulgarian government spokesman confirmed reports Wednesday that one of two Bulgarians held hostage in Iraq had been killed.

"Yes, I may confirm that he is a Bulgarian," government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev said in a telephone interview from Sofia.

Tsonev added that he did not know which of the two hostages was killed.

The confirmation came shortly after the Arabic-language news network Al-Jazeera reported that it had received two videotapes, one showing the killing of the Bulgarian hostage and the other containing a message from an Egyptian hostage also being held in Iraq.

The network said the Jihad and Unification group claimed responsibility. The group, which claims loyalty to insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also took responsibility for beheading U.S. businessman Nicholas Berg and South Korean translator Kim Sun-il.

The network broadcast part of a videotape showing a man in an orange shirt kneeling in front of three masked men dressed in black. It did not broadcast the killing.

Al-Jazeera said the group also said it would kill the other hostage in 24 hours if female prisoners in Iraq were not released.

The hostages have been identified as Ivailo Kepov and Georgi Lazov, both truck drivers.

Two Bulgarian diplomats are in Baghdad attempting to arrange the release of the second hostage, Tsonev said.

"We have another 24 hours," he said. "The Bulgarian government and our institutions will do their best to save the life of the other Bulgarian."

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the Bulgarian government has informed the United States of the hostage's death.

"We learned from the Bulgarian government one of its citizens has been executed. Our sympathies are with the families as well as the Bulgarian people," she said. "We appreciate the steadfast support and sacrifice of the Bulgarian people. These are barbaric acts meant to shake our will, and they will not. Freedom and stability will prevail in Iraq."

Bulgaria has 470 troops based in the central Iraq city of Karbala, according to Reuters.

Earlier, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said both hostages were alive, even though a reported deadline set by the kidnappers had passed.

Previous video showed the Bulgarians sitting with their hands tied as three armed masked men stood behind them.

The insurgents read a statement telling the Bulgarian government that its alliances with the U.S. government has jeopardized the safety of its citizens in Iraq.

Egyptian hostage

In Baghdad, Karima Sharaf, head of the Egyptian delegation, demanded the release of an Egyptian truck driver also being held hostage. Sharaf said Islam does not sanction taking hostages.

Al-Jazeera broadcast the videotape showing Mohammed al-Gharabawi appealing to truck drivers in Saudi Arabia -- where he worked -- not to go to Iraq.

On the tape, the captors said they would kill the hostage if his Saudi employer did not leave Iraq within 72 hours.

Iraqi raids

Earlier Tuesday, Iraqi police conducted raids targeting criminals in a sweep through a Baghdad neighborhood.

It is unclear how many people were arrested.

The Ministry of Interior's criminal investigations team detained 528 in the Rasafa district, an Iraqi police officer said.

Brig. Gen. Thamir Saadoun, commander of the Baghdad emergency police, said fewer were arrested but didn't have exact numbers.

The raids, which began Monday, are the first large-scale police operation since the handover of power from the U.S.-led coalition to the interim Iraqi government last month.

The operation netted more arrests than anticipated and brought in suspected drug dealers and weapons traders, Reuters reported.

Early Filipino troop withdrawal

A Filipino hostage was expected to be freed Tuesday following the Philippine government's agreement to withdraw its forces early from Iraq, diplomatic sources in Baghdad said.

The sources said truck driver Angelo de la Cruz, 46, was to be released at an undisclosed location. (Full story)

Manila assured the hostage-takers that its 51-member humanitarian contingent would leave Iraq before August 20, the sources said. The abductors demanded that Filipino troops leave by July 20.

Iraq wants NATO training soon

Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said his country is in "a race against time" and asked NATO on Tuesday to speed up its plan to train Iraq's armed forces.

Zebari met Tuesday with NATO ambassadors at the organization's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, for the first time since the handover of power to the Iraqi interim government.

At a summit meeting last month in Turkey, NATO leaders agreed to help train Iraq's armed forces. (Full story)

Other developments

  • A top manager with the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and Minerals, Sabir Karim, was shot dead outside his home Tuesday, ministry officials said. No information was immediately available on who carried out the attack.
  • The chairman of the Iraq National Olympics Committee said Tuesday that he escaped an assassination attempt in Baghdad. Ahmed Abdul Qaffur Al-Samarrae said he was traveling Monday in a two-vehicle convoy when a mine detonated and attackers began firing. The other car in the convoy was hit, he said, but both vehicles managed to escape.
  • Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, has been chosen as the top envoy for the United Nations in Iraq, U.N. officials said Monday. (Full story)
  • U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun said he was abducted from his base near Fallujah, Iraq, last month, according to military sources. Hassoun has not explained how he then traveled from Iraq to Lebanon, where he was recovered last week, sources said. (Full story)
  • CNN's Jane Arraf, Jamie McIntyre and Maria Ressa contributed to this report.


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