Nick Berg had been advised to leave Iraq
An American civilian who was beheaded in a grisly video posted on an al-Qaida-linked Web site had been warned to leave Iraq but refused, US officials said Wednesday.
An American civilian who was beheaded in a grisly video posted on an al-Qaida-linked Web site had been warned to leave Iraq but refused, US officials said Wednesday. The masked men who butchered him claimed they were angered by coalition abuses of Iraqi prisoners.
The American captive identified himself as Nick Berg, 26, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. His body was found near a highway overpass in Baghdad on Saturday, the same day he was beheaded, a US official said.
After pushing Berg to the floor, the men severed his head and held it up for the camera on the video posted Tuesday. It bore the title "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American," referring to an associate of Osama bin Laden believed behind a wave of suicide bombings in Iraq.
It was unclear whether al-Zarqawi was shown in the video or simply ordered the execution. Al-Zarqawi also is sought in the assassination of a US diplomat in Jordan in 2002. The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture or killing.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Berg was in Iraq "of his own accord" and had been advised to leave Iraq but refused. The official refused to elaborate but promised more information later Wednesday.
Col. Mike Phillips, a spokesman for the US military, told The Associated Press that Berg's body left Kuwait aboard a US Air Force plane Tuesday night and was expected Wednesday at the US Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware.
According to his family, Berg, a small telecommunications business owner, spoke to his parents on March 24 and told them he would return home on March 30. But he was detained by Iraqi police at a checkpoint in Mosul on March 24.
Berg was turned over to US officials and detained for 13 days. His father, Michael, said his son wasn't allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer. On April 5, the Bergs filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the US military. The next day Berg was released. He told his parents he hadn't been mistreated. His family last heard from him April 9 but it was unclear when and where he was abducted. The Bush administration said those who beheaded Berg would be hunted down and brought to justice.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. "It shows the true nature of the enemies of freedom. They have no regard for the lives of innocent men, women and children."
Although Berg was working on his own, US officials fear the savage killing might prompt more foreigners working on international reconstruction projects to flee the country.
Since the security situation deteriorated last month, about three out of 10 Americans and other non-Iraqis involved in reconstruction projects financed by the US Agency for International Development have fled Iraq, the USAID director Andrew Natsios told The Associated Press.
A coalition official, speaking on condition of anonymity, called Berg's death a "real anomaly" because the overwhelming majority of Westerners here are working for international companies. Friends and family of Berg said he was a "free spirit" who wanted to help others _ working in Ghana, in one example _ and that his going to Iraq fit with that ideology. They said he supported the Iraqi war and the Bush administration.
Berg's killing happened amid a climate of intense anti-Western sentiment, which flared in Iraq after last month's crackdown on Shiite extremists and the three-week Marine siege of Fallujah west of Baghdad. Anger at the United States swelled with the publication of photographs showing Iraqis abused and humiliated at Abu Ghraib prison, which continue to stir rage throughout the Arab world. US officials had feared the shocking photographs would endanger the lives of American troops and civilians.
In the video, five men wearing headscarves and black ski masks stand over a bound man in an orange jumpsuit similar to prison uniforms.
"My name is Nick Berg. My father's name is Michael. My mother's name is Suzanne," the man, seated in a chair, says. "I have a brother and sister, David and Sara. I live in ... Philadelphia." The video then cuts to Berg sitting on the floor, his hands tied behind his back, flanked by the masked men, as a statement is read in Arabic. Berg sits still during the statement, facing the camera, occasionally raising his shoulders.
After the statement, the assailant directly behind Berg takes a large knife from under his clothing while another pulls Berg onto his side. The tape shows assailants thrusting the knife through his neck. A scream sounds before the men cut Berg's head off, repeatedly shouting "Allahu Akbar!" _ or "God is great." They then hold the head out before the camera. The video is of poor quality, and its time stamp seems to show an 11-hour lapse between when the assailants finish their statement and push Berg down, to when they behead him. That suggests a delay between those two portions of tape posted on the Web site. Berg attended Cornell University, Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Oklahoma, where he got involved in rigging electronics equipment while working for the maintenance department, his father said. He helped set up equipment at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000. While at Cornell, he traveled to Ghana to teach villagers how to make bricks out of minimal material. His father said Berg returned from Ghana with only the clothes on his back and emaciated because he gave away most of his food.
Michael Berg said his son saw his trip to Iraq as an adventure in line with his desire to help others.
Berg's family said they were informed by the State Department on Monday that he was found dead.
When told by a reporter about the Web site, Berg's father, brother and sister grasped one another and slowly dropped to the ground in their front yard, where they wept quietly while holding each other.
"I knew he was decapitated before," Michael Berg said. "That manner is preferable to a long and torturous death. But I didn't want it to become public."
The decapitation recalled the kidnapping and videotaped beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 in Pakistan. Four Islamic militants have been convicted of kidnapping Pearl, but seven suspects _ including those who allegedly slit his throat _ remain at large.
Last month, Iraqi militants videotaped the killing of Italian hostage Fabrizio Quattrocchi, but the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera refused to air it because it was too graphic.
In the video of Berg, the executioners said they had tried to trade him for prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
"For the mothers and wives of American soldiers, we tell you that we offered the US administration to exchange this hostage for some of the detainees in Abu Ghraib and they refused," one of the men read from a statement.
"So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins ... slaughtered in this way."
Seven soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company face charges in the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in a scandal that has sparked worldwide outrage. One of those soldiers faces a court-martial in Baghdad next week, the first to go to trial. April 9, when Berg last made contact with his family, also was the day that seven American contractors working for a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp. and two military men disappeared after their supply convoy was attacked on the outskirts of Baghdad. Four of the Halliburton workers and one of the military men have since been confirmed dead. Halliburton worker Thomas Hamill escaped his captors May 2 and returned home to Mississippi on Saturday. The two other Halliburton workers and the other soldier remain missing. Two soldiers also vanished April 9. One was later found dead and the other, Pfc. Keith M. Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, was taken captive and remains missing.