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Terrorists execute British hostage in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A British national who was kidnapped along with two Americans was beheaded, his family said Friday, ending hopes that the family's relentless fight for his release would work.

The capture of Kenneth Bigley had touched many Iraqis who saw the front-page newspaper ads and fliers his family put out. Many empathized with him as they saw him plead for his life on videos released by the terrorists.

Bigley's brother Phil read a statement on national television in Britain Friday evening, saying: "We can confirm that the family has now received absolute proof that Ken Bigley was executed by his captors."

Another brother, Paul, who led the family campaign and often criticized the British government for not helping, said Friday that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had "blood on his hands."

In a televised statement, Blair said: "I feel utter revulsion at the people who did this."

Bigley, 62, was kidnapped along with Americans Eugene Armstrong, 52, and Jack Hensley, 48, from their home in Baghdad on Sept. 16. Neighbors said a group of men grabbed them, threw them into a car and covered their mouths.

The three men worked for Gulf Supplies and Commercial Services. Bigley planned to retire in a few weeks.

Armstrong and Hensley were decapitated within a week of the kidnapping, and their deaths were shown in gruesome videos.

According to those who've seen the most recent tape, six men stood behind Bigley, who was wearing an orange jumpsuit and kneeling on the ground. One of the men spoke for about a minute, saying that Bigley would be killed. He then grabbed a knife from his belt and began severing Bigley's head. Three of the other men held Bigley down. The tape ended with the killer holding up the severed head.

The Monotheism and Jihad group of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The group had demanded the release of all female prisoners from Abu Ghraib and Basra prisons. But British officials said they didn't have any female prisoners, and U.S. officials said the two they had were "high-profile" prisoners who were being held at a special facility.

Immediately after Bigley's capture, his family publicly called for his release. They said they opposed Britain's involvement in Iraq, and they appealed to Iraqis to provide information that might help them.

Bigley's captors released two videos of him before the beheading. In both he wore an orange jumpsuit and asked for Blair's help. At times, he broke down in tears. On one tape he wept and buried his face in his hands when he talked about his 86-year-old mother, who he heard had been hospitalized for stress during the ordeal. A chain hung around his neck and feet.

At times, it appeared that Bigley's release was imminent. On Sept. 27, Paul Bigley said "something was happening" and that he was hopeful his brother would be released soon.

But Blair said, "There is no point in raising false hopes because of the nature of the people we're dealing with." He added, "We're doing everything we properly and legitimately can."

The British government said it doesn't negotiate with terrorists, but it was open to talking to Bigley's captors.

A group of Muslim clerics and Arab leaders pleaded for Bigley's life, including Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

On the streets, many had speculated that the terrorists would spare Bigley to drive a wedge between America and its British allies.


(Youssef reports for the Detroit Free Press.)


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