June 21, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Arab satellite TV network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape Sunday purportedly from al-Qaida-linked militants showing a South Korean hostage begging for his life and pleading with his government to withdraw troops from Iraq.
The kidnappers, who identified themselves as belonging to a group led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, gave South Korea 24 hours to meet its demand that Korean forces stay out of Iraq or "we will send you the head of this Korean."
"Korean soldiers, please get out of here," the man screamed in English, flailing his arms. "I don't want to die. I don't want to die. I know that your life is important, but my life is important."
South Korean media identified the hostage as Kim Sun-il, 33, an employee of South Korea's Gana General Trading, Co., a supplier for the U.S. military.
South Korean government officials held an emergency meeting in Seoul on Monday, and the deputy foreign minister said the nation will not change its plan to deploy 3,000 soldiers beginning in August to assist the U.S.-led coalition.
"There is no change in the government's spirit and position that it will send troops to Iraq to help establish peace and rebuild Iraq," Choi Young-jin said at a news conference.
Kim was abducted June 17 while making a delivery in the city of Fallujah, Choi said.
South Korean television station YTN said Kim had been in Iraq for about eight months. His distraught sister, Kim Jung-sook, told the station his family last spoke to him in April.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said the government will campaign for the hostage's release.
"The government will closely work with the U.S. military command in Iraq and international religious and human rights organizations to get the Korean hostage released as soon as possible," Ban said in Qingdao, China, where he was attending a summit of Asian foreign ministers. He was quoted by Yonhap, South Korea's national news agency.
The video came two days after news of the beheading of American engineer Paul M. Johnson Jr. by al-Qaida-linked militants in Saudi Arabia, and South Korea's announcement of its deployment. Once the deployment is complete, South Korea will be the largest U.S. partner in Iraq after Britain.
After showing the hostage's plea, the tape showed him kneeling in front of three masked men, two of them armed with Kalashnikov rifles. The man standing in the middle read a statement in Arabic.
"Our message to the South Korean government and the Korean people: We first demand you withdraw your forces from our lands and not send more of your forces to this land. Otherwise, we will send to you the head of this Korean, and we will follow it by the heads of your other soldiers."
The statement gave Seoul 24 hours from sunset Sunday to meet its demand.
The group identified itself as Monotheism and Jihad; its purported leader, al-Zarqawi, is linked to al-Qaida. Al-Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for the videotaped beheading last month of American businessman Nicholas Berg.
An Al-Jazeera staff member at the network headquarters in Qatar, Mohammed al-Saadi, told The Associated Press by telephone that the two-minute videotape was mailed to the Al-Jazeera bureau in Baghdad.
"Our office in Baghdad received an unknown package. They opened it and they found the tape," al-Saadi said.
On Saturday, Seoul warned its people not to travel to Iraq, saying its decision to send troops might prompt terror attacks on South Koreans. The warning came amid news of the beheading of Johnson, although it did not mention the incident. In April, seven South Korean missionaries were detained briefly by armed men in Iraq.
South Korea plans to send 900 troops to Kurdish-controlled Irbil in early August, followed by about 1,100 troops between late August and early September. An additional 1,000 soldiers will travel to Iraq later.
South Korea already has 600 military medics and engineers in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah who will redeploy to Irbil.
Seoul has portrayed the dispatch as a way of strengthening its alliance with the United States, thereby winning more support from Washington for a peaceful end to a long-running dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons development.
Johnson, 49, an engineer who had worked in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade, was kidnapped last weekend by militants who followed through on a threat to kill him by Friday if the Saudi kingdom did not release al-Qaida prisoners.