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Abductions, beheadings continue in Iraq

Captors threaten to kill remaining 2 Westerners

Eugene Armstrong is seen sitting in front of five masked insurgents.
more videoVIDEO
The video shows the painful and brutal beheading of Eugene Armstrong.

CNN's Jane Arraf reports on the killings of two Sunni clerics.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An American hostage was beheaded in Iraq, a video showed Monday, shortly after two influential clerics were killed in the war-torn country.

An Islamist Web site showed video of American Eugene Armstrong being beheaded by members of insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group Jihad and Unification.

The video showed Armstrong sitting in front of five masked insurgents. One of them pulled out a knife after reading a statement extending the deadline for beheading two other Westerners. (Full story)

Armstrong was shoved to the ground and his head severed.

The pace of hostage-taking in Iraq has increased in recent weeks.

On Sunday, a Sunni Muslim cleric was captured and later killed.

Sheik Hazim al-Zaidi, the Sunni imam of Baghdad's al-Sajjad mosque, was kidnapped while leaving the temple in the capital's Sadr City neighborhood, a heavily Shiite Muslim district, al-Zaidi spokesman Ammar al-Siger said.

His body was later delivered back to the mosque.

A second cleric, Sheik Mohammed Jado'ou, was gunned down Monday in southwest Baghdad's Baya'a district, al-Siger said.

Jado'ou was leaving prayers at his al-Kwather mosque when gunmen in a vehicle drove next to him and opened fire, the spokesman said.

The two clerics are members of the influential Sunni Committee of Muslim Scholars, a group that weighs in on key issues, provides religious interpretations and has helped with negotiating the release of hostages.

The Arabic-language TV channel Al-Jazeera broadcast video Saturday showing kidnappers who threatened to kill 10 employees of a Turkish company if their employer did not withdraw from Iraq within three days.

The company distanced itself from the United States on Monday, saying it has no business dealings with American companies or on U.S. military bases.

Vinsan General Manager Mehmet Akpinar said that the firm has been doing business in Iraq for 10 months and has sought out partnerships with Iraqis.

Akpinar and company spokeswoman Nalan Bayrak said initial reports that Vinsan was a joint U.S.-Turkish venture were untrue and that the company is wholly Turkish owned.

In addition, a previously unknown militant group claimed to have captured 15 members of the Iraqi national guard Sunday and threatened to kill them unless a jailed aide of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is released, according to a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera.

But a second video shown Monday on Al-Jazeera claimed to show the release of the men, all dressed in white robes and carrying copies of the Koran. Iraqi officials said they were unaware of any missing guardsmen, and a spokesman for al-Sadr moved quickly to distance the cleric from the reported kidnappings.

Apparent decapitations

An Islamist militant Web site posted video Sunday purportedly showing the decapitation of three members of the Kurdish Democratic Party.

In the video, a group calling itself Ansar al-Sunna -- the same group that released video last month showing the killings of 12 Nepalese hostages -- said that members of the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan were traitors serving "Zionists" and "Christian crusaders" fighting against Islam.

The video statement said the three men, all truck drivers, were captured as they were hauling military vehicles near the town of Taji, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

The group said it killed the men "to teach them a lesson they will never forget."

Other developments

  • Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi warned Monday that terrorists were flooding into his country from across the Muslim world. But former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told The Times of London: "There were no international terrorists in Iraq until we went in. It was we who gave the perfect conditions in which al Qaeda could thrive." (Full story)
  • A senior defense official said the United States recently approached Syria and "very clearly communicated" the need to secure the border between Syria and Iraq. The discussions took place during a recent visit to Syria by officials from the State Department and the Pentagon, the official said. The Syrians responded by agreeing with the U.S. concern, the official said, but it is not yet clear any action will be taken. (Full story)
  • U.S. airstrikes Monday hit a bulldozer and a dump truck full of sand at a "municipality project" in western Falluja, according to witnesses. The strikes killed three people and wounded five others, hospital officials said. U.S. military officials outside the city, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Baghdad, said the American-led multinational forces fired on construction equipment used by insurgents to build "fortified fighting positions."
  • An American military convoy was struck Monday morning by a roadside bomb on a crowded street in central Baghdad, wounding at least 15 Iraqi civilians, witnesses said. The witnesses said the five-vehicle convoy was passing through a bridge at the end of Haifa Street -- site of clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents -- when an improvised explosive device detonated. No U.S. casualties were reported.
  • CNN's Caroline Faraj, Thaira al-Hilli, Bassem Muhy, Faris Qasira and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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