Islamic extermists claim to have murdered hostage in Iraq

An extremist group posted a video on a website today showing a man it said was an American hostage being shot in the back of the head, and the German government said one of its citizens released by kidnappers was expected to leave Iraq.

An extremist group posted a video on a website today showing a man it said was an American hostage being shot in the back of the head, and the German government said one of its citizens released by kidnappers was expected to leave Iraq.

But there was still no word on the fate of four other Western hostages – an American, a Briton and two Canadians – kidnapped in late November.

The Islamic Army of Iraq said the man shown in the video was civilian contractor Ronald Allen Schulz.

The group had issued a statement on an Islamic militant Web forum on December 8 saying he had been killed after the United States failed to respond to its demand for the release of Iraqi prisoners, and that pictures of the slaying would be released later.

The video did not show the man’s face, and it was impossible to identify him conclusively. The victim was kneeling with his back to the camera, with his hands tied behind his back and blindfolded with an Arab head-dress when he was shot.

In a separate piece of film, shown on a split screen as the killing was aired, the group also showed a picture of Schulz alive. The group aired the same footage of the American when it announced he had been kidnapped earlier this month.

The group identified Schulz as a security consultant for the Iraqi Housing Ministry, although neighbours and family from Alaska, where he lives, say he is an industrial electrician who has worked on contracts around the world.

The Islamic Army of Iraq, one of the most active groups in Iraq, is believed to include former Baathists and loyalists to Saddam Hussein, plus Sunni Salafist Islamic extremists and former Palestinian militants who lived in Iraq under Saddam’s rule.

In the past, it has been implicated in the murder of Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, who had volunteered for the Red Cross in Iraq, and also has abducted French journalists and executed Pakistani contractors and Macedonians working for a US company.

Also today, the German government said 43-year-old aid worker and archaeologist Susanne Osthoff – who was released a day earlier – was soon expected to leave Iraq. She had been held hostage for three weeks.

Officials left several questions unanswered about the kidnapping and release of Osthoff, the first German taken hostage in Iraq. It is not clear who kidnapped her.

In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger refused to comment on the circumstances of her release or on who, other than German authorities, may have been involved.

Jaeger said Osthoff was “safely in the care of the German embassy” in Baghdad and that she was expected to leave the country “in the very near future”.

Osthoff disappeared along with her Iraqi driver, whom German media identified as Khalid al-Shimani, on November 25.

Days later, the two were shown in a videotape blindfolded and sitting on a floor, with militants – one armed with a rocket-propelled grenade – standing beside them. The captors threatened to kill the hostages unless Germany stopped dealing with the Iraqi government.

Germany was an ardent opponent of the US-led invasion of Iraq and refused to send troops here, but it has been training Iraqi soldiers and police outside the country.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Sunday that the kidnappers had promised to free the driver as well.

There has been no word on four Christian activists kidnapped by the previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigade. The group had threatened to kill the four by December 10 unless all prisoners were released.

The four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams are Norman Kember, 74, of London; Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Virginia; and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32.

Christian Peacemaker Teams has been working in Iraq since October 2002, investigating allegations of abuse against Iraqi detainees and promoting peace.

Iraq was swept by a wave of kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners in 2004 and early 2005, but such attacks decreased in recent months as many Western groups have left and security recautions for those who remain have tightened.

Insurgents, including al Qaida in Iraq, have seized more than 240 foreigners and killed at least 39.

Schulz, a native of North Dakota, served in the Marine Corps from 1984 to 1991. He moved to Alaska six years ago, and friends and family say he is divorced.

The videotaped killing showed the man being shot as he kneeled in an open, empty area of dirt. He toppled over after the first shot, and then was shot repeatedly. The video also showed Schulz’s identity card.

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