U.S. man beheaded in Iraqi video

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A video posted Tuesday on an al-Qaida-linked Web site showed the beheading of an American civilian in Iraq and said the execution was carried out to avenge abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

In a grisly gesture, the executioners held up the man's head for the camera.

The American identified himself on the video as Nick Berg, a 26-year-old Philadelphia native. His body was found near a highway overpass in Baghdad on Saturday, the same day he was beheaded, a U.S. official said.

The video bore the title "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American." It was unclear whether al-Zarqawi -- an associate of Osama bin Laden believed behind the wave of suicide bombings in Iraq -- was shown in the video or simply ordered the execution. Al-Zarqawi also is sought in the assassination of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan in 2002.

The Bush administration said those who beheaded Berg would be hunted down and brought to justice.

Berg was a small-business owner who went to Iraq independent of any organization to help rebuild communication antennas, his family said Tuesday. Friends and family said he was a "free spirit" who wanted to help others -- working in Ghana, in one example -- and that his going to Iraq fit with that ideology. They said he supported the Iraqi war and the Bush administration.

Berg's killing happened amid a climate of intense anti-Western sentiment, which flared in Iraq after last month's crackdown on Shiite extremists and the three-week Marine siege of Fallujah west of Baghdad. Anger at the United States swelled with the publication of photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad.

In the video, five men wearing headscarves and black ski masks stand over a bound man in an orange jumpsuit similar to prison uniforms.

"My name is Nick Berg. My father's name is Michael. My mother's name is Suzanne," the man, seated in a chair, says. "I have a brother and sister, David and Sara. I live in ... Philadelphia."

The video then cuts to Berg sitting on the floor, his hands tied behind his back, flanked by the masked men, as a statement is read in Arabic. Berg sits still during the statement, facing the camera, occasionally raising his shoulders.

After the statement, one assailant takes a large knife from under his clothing while another pulls Berg onto his side. The tape shows assailants thrusting the knife through his neck. A scream sounds before the men cut Berg's head off, repeatedly shouting "Allahu Akbar!" -- or "God is great."

They then hold the head out before the camera.

The video is of poor quality, and its time stamp seems to show an 11-hour lapse between when the assailants finish their statement and push Berg down, to when they behead him. That suggests a delay between those two portions of tape posted on the Web site.

The FBI is analyzing the Internet video, said an official speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that it was too early to draw any conclusions.

The Bergs, who live in the Philadelphia suburb of West Chester, Pa., last heard from their son April 9, the same day insurgents attacked a U.S. convoy west of the capital.

Berg attended Cornell University, Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Oklahoma, where he got involved in rigging electronics equipment while working for the maintenance department, his father said. He helped set up equipment at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000.

While at Cornell, he traveled to Ghana to teach villagers how to make bricks out of minimal material. His father said Berg returned from Ghana with only the clothes on his back and emaciated because he gave away most of his food.

Michael Berg said his son saw his trip to Iraq as an adventure in line with his desire to help others.

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