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South Korean hostage reported beheaded in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A militant Islamic group linked to terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi beheaded its second hostage in as many months Tuesday.

Later that evening, American military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said U.S. forces had attacked what was described as an al-Zarqawi safe house in the city of Fallujah, the second strike against al-Zarqawi's operation since Saturday.

"This operation employed precision weapons to target and destroy the safe house and underscores the coalition's continuing resolve, in partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces, to defeat and destroy terrorist networks within Iraq," Kimmitt said in a statement. "Wherever and whenever we find elements of the Zarqawi network, we will attack them."

President Bush said Tuesday that the American mission in Iraq wouldn't be swayed by the bloodshed. "They want us to cower in the face of the brutal killings, and the United States will not be intimidated," he said.

The South Korean government responded by calling for the evacuation of all of its contractors by early July but stood firm behind an agreement to supply 3,000 more troops for U.S.-led efforts in Iraq.

South Korean contractor Kim Sun-il, who had pleaded for his life in a videotape broadcast the day before, was seen in video footage Tuesday wearing an orange jumpsuit, the same prison-type garb that American Nicholas Berg had worn before he was executed last month. Kim had a red blindfold on and hung his head, silently, as five masked gunmen stood behind him.

Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite news channel that aired the tape, said it wouldn't show the rest of the footage, which apparently included the beheading.

The head and body of an Asian man were recovered later west of Baghdad.

Kim's jumpsuit apparently was meant as a reminder of the Abu Ghraib prison, the site of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American soldiers last year.

In Tuesday's video, one of the men had a large knife hanging from his waist. Another held a heavy machine gun with a long row of ammunition. One of the men read a statement intended for the Korean government.

"This happened because of you. Stop lying. You are sending your army not to help Iraqis, but to help the cursed America," the man said. "We have warned you, and you didn't take it seriously."

A contingent of Korean troops is scheduled to begin building an airport in far northern Iraq, near the city of Irbil. Once built, it would be available to American military aircraft, representing a key strategic point in the north end of the country.

Kim's killing was part of a campaign of violence and sabotage in Iraq aimed at destabilizing the transition of sovereignty June 30 to an interim Iraqi government.

Elsewhere on Tuesday:

_ A suicide car bombing in a busy market area in west Baghdad killed at least three, including the bomber, and injured six, according to hospital officials. Glass and charred metal were strewn across the street. Among the dead was a 3-year-old Iraqi girl.

_ Two American soldiers were killed and one was wounded in an attack by gunmen in Balad, a town to the north of Baghdad.

_ The dean of law at the university in Mosul, in northern Iraq, was found slain along with her husband outside their home.

In south Baghdad, Hisham Fadel, who works in a stationery shop, said the motivations behind Kim's killing weren't very complicated.

"It's just propaganda to prove that they are here and the Americans can do nothing to them," Fadel said.

Kim was working as an Arabic translator for a South Korean contractor out of Baghdad, according to a posting on the Web site of the South Korean Embassy in Washington. He was kidnapped June 17 while making a delivery in the restive town of Fallujah, but the president of his company kept it secret while trying to negotiate his release.

By all accounts, Fallujah is controlled by extremist clerics and gunmen. U.S. military officials have said their intelligence data suggest that al-Zarqawi uses the town as one of his bases in Iraq.

On Saturday, a U.S. airstrike demolished a building in Fallujah that military officials said had been used as a safe house for al-Zarqawi operatives, some of them foreign fighters.

"These were key personnel in the al-Zarqawi network operating inside Fallujah with the capability to strike civilians and coalition forces throughout Iraq," Kimmitt said earlier this week.

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(Knight Ridder correspondents Mark McDonald in Irbil, Iraq, and special correspondent Omar Jassem contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

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