BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 27 — A militant Iraqi group threatened Sunday night to behead an American marine it said it had abducted from a military base
unless the United States released all Iraqi prisoners, according to a video broadcast on the Qatar-based television network Al Jazeera.
The video shows a man identified as Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun sitting on the ground in desert-patterned camouflage fatigues, with a thick blindfold over his eyes and a long, curved sword held over his head.
Marine officials said Sunday night that Corporal Hassoun, who is of Lebanese descent, had been missing since June 21.
The kidnappers belong to a little-known group called the Islamic Reaction, which referred to itself as the security wing of the 20th Revolution Regiment. They did not give a deadline for taking action but said Corporal Hassoun would be killed if their demands were not met.
The new beheading threat adds to the anxiety that has been steadily rising in Iraq with the approach of the transfer of sovereignty on Wednesday. Now five men — three Turks and a Pakistani as well as the American — face grisly execution if their countries do not bow to their captors’ demands.
Also on Sunday, a passenger on a military flight was fatally shot when the plane was fired on during takeoff from Baghdad International Airport. In a
separate incident, two children reportedly died after a mortar crashed into the waters of the Tigris River.
In Baghdad, extra police officers were called up to guard major intersections and search cars. American military officials warned that Monday could see the beginning of a wave of insurgent attacks that they are calling the “Baghdad offensive.”
Earlier on Sunday, another Arab television network broadcast a video of masked men holding a Pakistani contractor hostage. The masked men, apparently not from the same group as the one holding Corporal Hassoun, said they would cut off their hostage’s head within 72 hours unless Pakistan closed its embassy in Baghdad and recalled all of its workers. The Pakistani
government has not issued a response.
In the video, the Pakistani hostage looked ashen-faced and terrified as he sat at the feet of four gunmen. He held up a badge identifying himself as an employee of the American contractor Kellogg Brown & Root.
In the video of the man identified as Corporal Hassoun, no kidnappers are clearly shown, although someone standing off camera is holding a sword over the marine’s head. In a statement by the group, the kidnappers said they had sneaked into an American base, lured Corporal Hassoun out and then kidnapped him.
Marine officials said Corporal Hassoun is a member of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, which has many troops based in the strife-ridden Falluja area, where several other Americans have been abducted. The officials said that while they could confirm that Corporal Hassoun was missing, they could not confirm he had been kidnapped. In the short, grainy video, the camera lingers on his Marine identification card that says, “Hassoun, Wassef Ali” and “Active Duty.”
The group’s name, 20th Revolution Regiment, is thought to refer to the violent uprising in Iraq against the British after World War I.
Family members gathered Sunday night at the home of a close relative of Corporal Hassoun’s in West Jordan, Utah, southwest of Salt Lake City.
The blinds of the house were closed and the curtains pulled shut. Friends and relatives, some wearing head scarves, stopped by. A group of cameramen and reporters stood on the corner with their large trucks and lights on.
“In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate, we accept destiny with its good parts and its bad,” said Tarek Nosseir, a family friend and spokesman, reading a statement to reporters. “We pray and we plead for his safe release, and we ask all people of the world to join us in our prayers. May God bless us all.”
In the community, where children ride bikes down the street, neighbors say the family members keep to themselves. Usually, when they were seen outside, they were working on their lawn or their cars, said Rob L. Grimstad, a neighbor. He saw one of the family members on Sunday and said it was clear that he was suffering.
“You can tell he’s upset from his expression,” Mr. Grimstad said. “He’s obviously in distress. That’s not the way he usually looks.”
Meanwhile, three Turkish men remain in captivity, also facing a threat of beheading. Neither Turkey nor Pakistan has troops in Iraq though the two countries, both Muslim, supply many workers. Turkey said Sunday that it would not give in to the kidnappers’ demands that it quit doing business with American forces in Iraq.
Already, two hostages seized in Iraq have been decapitated, on video, by insurgents connected to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian fugitive suspected of masterminding a bombing campaign that has killed hundreds of people. In recent weeks, he has emerged as the brutal new terror boss in Iraq, though it is not clear if he is linked to other groups like Al Qaeda or is operating on his own. Some intelligence officers have even said Mr. Zarqawi may be a rival, not an ally, of Osama bin Laden.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that occupation forces had recently captured two top Zarqawi aides. “We’ve picked up a couple of his key lieutenants, and that’s helpful,” he said.
A defense official said one of the aides, who was captured last week, had told American interrogators that Mr. Zarqawi was less interested in the future of Iraq specifically than he was in establishing a base in Falluja from which to foment violence against the United States and American allies in the region.
Sunday in Baghdad started out grimly when several large mortar shells thudded into the Tigris River around 11 a.m. There was a second mortar attack in the evening, and news agencies later reported that between two and five people had been killed, including two boys playing on the riverbank.
Reuters reported that a rocket strike had killed an American soldier in Baghdad and that insurgents had killed six Iraqi soldiers near Baquba, a small city north of the capital and the scene of other recent violence.
The military released few details about the attack on the airplane, thought to be one of the first deadly incidents of its kind. A short news release said that a C-130 troop transport plane was hit by gunfire around 5 p.m. and that the pilot had returned to the ground to seek medical treatment for the passenger, who later died.
In Hilla, south of Baghdad, the death toll rose to 37 from a suicide car bomb that exploded on a busy street on Saturday night.
Sadiq Hashim was driving with his family to an ice cream parlor when the explosion ripped next to his car. His wife and two sons burned to death inside the car.
On Sunday, Mr. Hashim, a civil engineer, curled up in a hospital bed, his face and chest a mess of burn salve and gauze.
“The street was like a piece of fire,” Mr. Hashim said. “It all happened before my eyes, and I was unable to help my kids, who were burning.”
His 4-year-old daughter, Nergis, survived, but Mr. Hashim said the skin on her face now looked as though it had melted.
“I’ve been through a lot in my life, and I went through several wars,” Mr.
Hashim said. “But never have I seen something so horrible.”
Car bombs have become one of the deadliest tools of terror in Iraq. But most are aimed at police stations or military targets. What was unusual about the Hilla bomb, which went off around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, was that it was directed against a strip of juice stands, clothing stores and ice cream shops, at the precise hour when families go out for a stroll or a drive after the desert sun sets and the air begins to cool.
Many people were outraged.
“I just want to ask one question to those who call themselves freedom fighters,” said Ali Kadum al-Hamdani, the provincial human rights chief in Hilla. “What did Nergis do to them?”
Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting from Hilla, Iraq, for this article, Eric Schmitt from Istanbul and Melissa Sanford from West Jordan,