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Iraq Video Shows Russians' Execution

CAIRO, Egypt -- An al-Qaida-linked group posted a web video Sunday showing the graphic killings of three Russian Embassy workers abducted earlier this month in Iraq.

An accompanying statement by the Mujahedin Shura Council, an umbrella organization linking seven insurgent groups including al-Qaida in Iraq, said all four Russians were killed.

The 1 1/2 minute video, posted on an Islamic web site that frequently airs militant messages, showed two blindfolded men beheaded and the shooting of a third man.

In the footage, two men clad in black and wearing black ski masks shout "God is great!" before beheading the first man. Then one militant appears standing over the decapitated body of a second victim in a pool of blood, with the head placed on top of the body.

Both beheadings appear in a closed room with white walls. The shooting appears outdoors in what looked like an alley between buildings.

The footage was stamped with the logo of al-Qaida.

"God's verdict has been carried out on the Russian diplomats ... in revenge for the torture, killing and expulsion of our brothers and sisters by the infidel Russian government," the Mujahedin Shura Council said in an accompanying statement.

The council last week gave Moscow 48 hours to withdraw troops from Chechnya.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday that it was trying to confirm the authenticity of the video, Interfax reported.

The video begins with a verse from the Quran appearing in white letters on a black screen, and a voice reading "Those who aggress on you, you aggress on them."

One at a time, the four men appear on camera, staring ahead and speaking in Russian. Then the camera cuts to the killings.

Footage of the men speaking into the camera is dated June 13, but the footage of the killings is undated.

Four Russian Embassy workers were abducted on June 3 after an attack on their car in Baghdad's Mansour neighborhood. A fifth Russian was killed in the incident.

The captives included the embassy's third secretary, Fyodor Zaitsev, and three other staffers: Rinat Agliulin, Anatoly Smirnov and Oleg Fedoseyev.

Last Wednesday, the Mujahedin Shura Council posted a statement on the Internet saying it had decided to kill the four Russians, prompting one hostage's sister, a Muslim, to make an impassioned plea for the men to be freed.

"I beg you to pardon them and release them. You are Muslims, and Islam before anything else is a religion of peace and justice," Aliya Agliulin, wearing an Islamic headscarf, said on Al-Jazeera television on June 21, according to an Arabic voiceover of her statement.

"I, as a Muslim like all other Muslims in Russia, feel pain for what is happening in Iraq," Agliulin said. "Please act wisely and think of the feeling of the families of the hostages and their children who are waiting for their return. ... My brother is the lone provider for our family."

Videos of beheadings were an early signature of the insurgency, as well as a grisly trademark of tapes produced by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But such graphic images have become rare in the past year.

The exception was a June 10 video showing militants beheading three Iraqis accused of belonging to a Shiite "death squad." Its posting three days after Zarqawi's death in a U.S. airstrike suggested an attempt to show his killing had not weakened militants' resolve.

The targeting of Russians in the kidnapping was unusual, since Moscow opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, winning it favor in the eyes of some Sunni Arabs, who now form the backbone of the insurgency.

But memories of that stance may be fading three years on -- and many Islamic militants despise Russia for its military campaigns in Chechnya, seen by radicals as a battleground for jihad, or holy war.

(The Moscow Times

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