June 29, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi militants released three Turkish hostages Tuesday, shortly after another group of kidnappers claimed to have executed an American soldier captured nearly three months ago.
The killing of Spc. Keith M. Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio, was reported by Arab television, which aired a videotape showing a blindfolded man identified by his captors as Maupin sitting on the ground.
Al-Jazeera said that in the next scene, gunmen shoot the man in the back of the head, in front of a hole dug in the ground. The station did not broadcast the killing.
The U.S. military said it could not immediately confirm whether the man shown in the murky videotape was indeed Maupin. Maj. Willie Harris, spokesman for the Army's 88th Regional Readiness Command, said the videotape is being analyzed by the Defense Department.
Meanwhile, the father of a U.S. Marine who was reported kidnapped by militants on Monday issued a plea for his release. The captors of Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun have threatened to behead him.
The three Turks also had faced threats of beheading in the next two days. But on Tuesday, the Turkish government said the three had been freed.
"Our citizens have been released," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told state television. "We've struggled a lot for their release."
His comments came after a report on Al-Jazeera said the group holding the Turks announced that it would release the captives "for the sake of their Muslim brothers."
The Arab satellite station broadcast a videotape showing the three Turkish hostages, believed to be contractors, kneeling in front of three militants as one read a statement.
"For the sake of you, our brothers, and Muslims of the people of Turkey ... we will release these hostages and send them safely home," the statement said.
The abduction of the Turks was claimed by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose followers killed American Nicholas Berg last month and South Korean Kim Sun-Il last week.
Al-Jazeera said Maupin's captors issued a statement along with their video calling themselves "The Sharp Sword against the Enemies of God and His Prophet."
The militants said they killed the soldier because the United States did not change its policies in Iraq and to avenge "martyrs" in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Algeria.
Maupin was among nine Americans, seven of them contractors, who disappeared after an ambush on a convoy west of Baghdad on April 9.
The bodies of four civilian employees of Kellogg Brown & Root - a subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney's former company Halliburton - were later found in a shallow grave near the site of the attack. The body of Sgt. Elmer Krause, of Greensboro, N.C. was later found.
One civilian driver, Thomas Hamill of Macon, Miss., was kidnapped but escaped from his captors nearly a month later. The others are missing.
Maupin appeared days after the attack in a video showing him sitting on the ground in front of armed militants. There had been no word on his fate since.
Maupin's abduction came amid a wave of kidnappings in which dozens of foreigners were snatched. Most were later freed, though an Italian and a Lebanese man were killed.
More recently, the kidnappings have taken a more grisly turn with the kidnapping and subsequent beheadings of Berg and the South Korean.
Hassoun, an American Marine of Lebanese descent, was shown blindfolded, with a sword brandished over his head in a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera on Sunday. The militants threatened to behead him unless all Iraqis "in occupation jails" are freed. They did not set a timeframe.
"I appeal to the kidnappers and to their conscience and faith to release my son," his father, Ali Hassoun, said in an interview with The Associated Press at his house in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli.
"He is not a fighter. I hope that they will respond favorably to my appeal. May God reward them," he said.
The U.S. military said Hassoun, 24, was last seen June 19 and did not report for duty the next day.
Hassoun had gone "on an unauthorized absence," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition deputy operations chief in Baghdad, giving few details.
He lived with his eldest brother, Mohammad, in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan and later joined the Marines.
His kidnappers identified themselves as part of "Islamic Response," the security wing of the "National Islamic Resistance - 1920 Revolution Brigades." The name refers to the uprising against the British after World War I.
Other kidnappers have threatened to behead Pakistani driver, Amjad Hafeez, by Wednesday and a group of three Turkish hostages by Tuesday unless their demands are met.
The Turkish news agency Ilhas reported Monday that two other Turks missing since June 1 have been kidnapped, producing photos of the men in custody.