CAIRO, Egypt, AP – Iraqi insurgent groups closed ranks in response to the death of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sending condolences in Web messages Saturday and warning Sunnis not to cooperate with the Iraqi government.
One group, Ansar al-Sunna, posted a video showing militants interrogating and then beheading three Iraqis accused of belonging to a Shiite “death squad” that killed Sunnis.
An early signature of the insurgency, videos of beheadings have become rare in the past year. The posting of one now on a militant Web forum suggests an attempt to show that al-Zarqawi’s death has not weakened their resolve.
The condolence statements came from Ansar al-Sunna and the head of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of five insurgent groups — including al-Qaida in Iraq — that al-Zarqawi helped found last last year.
Abdullah bin Rashid al-Baghdadi, the Shura Council’s head, vowed to continue the fight.
“Iraq is the front defense line for Islam and Muslims, so don’t fail to follow the path of the mujahedeen (holy warriors), the caravan of martyrs and the faithful,” al-Baghdadi said, addressing militants.
“As for you the slaves of the cross (coalition forces), the grandsons of Ibn al-Alqami (Shiites), and every infidel of the Sunnis, we can’t wait to sever your necks with our swords.”
Ansar al-Sunna vowed to break attempts at political progress in Iraq.
“To all Muslim everywhere, the battle is still going on and has reached its peak. Our next phase is to make the new plans (of the U.S. and Iraqi governments) fail, like the previous ones,” said the statement, signed by the group’s “emir,” or leader, Abu Abdullah al-Hassan bin Mahmoud.
“To the slaves of the cross, and their agents, listen to our loud anger, which will deafen you and paralyze your forces,” he said.
Followers of the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi were notorious as the most ruthless insurgents in Iraq, conducting suicide bombings against Shiite civilians and kidnapping and beheading Western hostages.
But Ansar al-Sunna — believed to be made up mainly of homegrown Iraqi guerrillas — has never been far behind and has carried out its own brutal hostage killings, executing 12 Nepalese workers and beheading several Turks last year.
Web videos showing hostage beheadings were a trademark of al-Zarqawi and Ansar al-Sunna, which released them frequently in 2004 and early 2005. But since late last year, new posting of such videos became less common, perhaps as al-Zarqawi came under criticism for the slayings.
Saturday’s video marked a vicious return to form, aimed at stirring up anger against Iraq’s Shiite-dominated leaders.
The footage showed three men wearing military uniforms and sitting cross-legged on the ground with their hands bound behind their backs in a small concrete room with gunmen standing around them.
Under questioning, the men said they were members of the “Wolf Brigades,” a special anti-terror commando unit of the Interior Ministry. Sunnis have accused the Wolf Brigades of being a front for Shiite militiamen who kill and torture Sunni Arab civilians.
A screen in the video said the three men were members of a “Shiite death squad” that tortured and killed Sunnis abducted from checkpoints south of Baghdad in March and April. It said the three were among 10 members of the security forces captured by Ansar al-Sunna in early May.
From behind the camera, a militant questioned the three about those and other alleged slayings. The men replied in low voices, looking terrified. One could barely speak, only stared with his mouth hanging open.
“They (the Sunnis) were beheaded by those who took and detained them,” said one, who identified himself as Ali Adnan Hamid.
After their confessions were extracted, the three were seen lying on the ground outdoors, and the camera showed a militant sharpening a knife. Then militants sawed off the three men’s heads, one by one, and moved the heads away from their bodies.
At the end of the tape, the group showed identification papers for the three men and warned Iraqis against joining the security forces.
“Otherwise, you will live in terror until we eliminate you,” it said.