PARIS (AFP) – An insurgent coalition led by Al-Qaeda said Sunday it had killed four Russian diplomats held hostage in Iraq and released a gruesome Internet video purportedly showing two of the men being executed.
“We present the implementation of Allah’s rule against the Russian diplomats to comfort the believers,” said the statement posted by the Mujahedeen Shura (consultative) Council in Iraq.
“It is also in revenge for our brothers and sisters and what they suffer of torture, killing and displacement by the infidel Russian government,” it added.
The videotape linked to the statement showed the four hostages speaking in separate messages dated June 13, before two of them were shown being killed and another after his murder.
The first was held on his knees in front of two masked men dressed in black, one of whom produces a knife and beheads the captive. Another body was then shown lying in a pool of blood with its severed head placed on its back.
A third hostage was shown kneeling handcuffed and blind-folded outdoors before being shot in the head with a pistol. The identity of the murdered hostages was not immediately clear nor was there any sign of the fourth captive.
The insurgent alliance said Wednesday that its Islamic court had ruled the four diplomats should be executed after Moscow failed to heed a 48-hour ultimatum to pull out of Chechnya and free Muslim prisoners from Russian jails.
The Russian foreign ministry said it was trying to confirm the killing of its three diplomats.
“The ministry of foreign affairs is checking the veracity of the information using every means possible,” ministry spokesman Mikhail Kaminine was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
The four are Fyodor Zaytsev, Rinat Aglyulin, Anatoly Smirnov and Oleg Fedosseyev.
They were abducted on June 3 when gunmen attacked their vehicle in the upmarket west Baghdad neighborhood of Mansur. A fifth diplomat, Vitaly Titov, was killed during the kidnapping.
The same group said in an Internet message Tuesday that it had executed two US soldiers whose bodies were found south of Baghdad with their throats slit.
Russia, which had close economic links with Saddam Hussein’s regime, opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Akhmad Zakayev, “foreign minister” in the underground rebel government fighting Russian rule in Chechnya, had told Echo Moscow radio from his exile in London that the separatist movement had nothing to do with the kidnappings.
“We firmly reject any attempts to link the fight of the Chechen people with any kind of terrorist organization which has appeared today,” Zakayev said on Wednesday.
“The Chechen leadership and Chechen people do not in any way take part in these worldwide projects.”
Iraqi militants vowed to avenge the killing of Al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a US air strike on June 7.
Russia has withheld comment on Zarqawi’s killing — a silence seen in Moscow as an attempt to safeguard the lives of the four Russian hostages.