DUBAI (Reuters) -A group led by al Qaeda in Iraq released gruesome footage of two corpses it said were U.S. soldiers killed in June, and dedicated the video to an Iraqi girl who U.S. soldiers are accused of raping and killing.
U.S. commanders condemned the video as “barbaric.”
The film, issued by the Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq and posted on an Islamist Web site on Tuesday, showed the bodies of two Western-looking men dressed in camouflage uniforms. It was not clear from the images whether they were U.S. soldiers.
One body had been decapitated. Both were bloodied and with flesh missing from several parts of their bodies. Several shots showed the bodies being trodden on by unidentified men.
“We present this production, of the remains of the bodies of the two American soldiers kidnapped near Yusufiya, as revenge for our sister whose honor was violated by a soldier from the same regiment,” the Mujahideen Shura Council said in a statement accompanying the footage.
The video opened with a statement from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the voice of his recently slain deputy in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, could also be heard.
The U.S. military released a statement in Baghdad saying: “(It) condemns the release of the video in the strongest of terms; it demonstrates the barbaric and brutal nature of the terrorists and their complete disregard for human life.”
Privates First Class Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker, kidnapped and killed in Iraq, were from the same unit as five Americans now charged with the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and killing three of her family at their nearby home in March.
Former private Steven Green has pleaded not guilty in a U.S. civilian court to rape and four counts of murder. Four serving soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment also face rape and murder charges and a fifth a charge of failing to report it.
The militant statement specifically described the release of the video, rather than the soldiers’ killing, as the “revenge.”
U.S. officers have said they have no evidence of any link to the killing of Tucker and Menchaca, who were abducted when their outpost was overrun and a third soldier killed on June 16.
The military’s investigation into the family’s killing near Mahmudiya was only launched, however, when a soldier spoke of it during stress counseling following the unit’s losses in June.
Many residents in the area were unaware of the rape-murder case when news of the U.S. probe broke at the end of last month and others believed the killings had been the work of militants.
The alleged rape of 14-year-old Abeer al-Janabi raised issues of taboo and honor in Iraqi society which appear to have limited public mention of her killing, and those of her parents and her 6-year-old sister, in their home around March 12.
Since the military announced its investigation, Iraqis and their government have expressed mounting outrage over the case, which comes after several other murder probes involving U.S. troops. Many Iraqis complain the troops can kill with impunity.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has demanded a review of U.S. troops’ immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law and his human rights minister said a proposal to the Security Council to change their United Nations mandate would be ready next month.