Terror group beheads second US hostage, while British hostage pleads for his life
Unconfirmed  reports say they have killed the two kidnapped Italian women.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/ Agencies)  - A British hostage appeared on a video posted on an Islamic Web site weeping and pleading for his life as Iraq's leader and U.S. officials stifled reports that a high-profile female Iraqi weapons scientist could be released from jail soon , as demanded by his captors.

The man who identified himself as Briton Kenneth Bigley appealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to intervene. "I think this is possibly my last chance," the speaker said. "I don't want to die."

The video came after a militant group led by Jordanian-born terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

decapitated Americans Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, who were abducted along with Bigley from their Baghdad home last week.

Videotape purportedly showing Hensley's beheading surfaced on a Web site Wednesday.

The blindfolded man who was killed wore an orange jumpsuit and sat in front of five masked militants dressed in black. The sunburst banner of Tawhid and Jihad hung from the wall.

One of the men read out a statement, before a militant pulled a knife and attacked the man from behind and sliced his head off. The head was then placed on top of the body.

A decapitated body was found in Baghdad on Wednesday and Hensley's family said it had received  confirmation that the body was his. Militants have threatened to kill Kenneth Bigley unless the US and the UK release all women held in Iraqi jails.

The US is holding two female weapons scientists, Rihab Rashid Taha and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, but says it has no plans to release them.

There was confusion on Wednesday after two Iraqi ministers announced that Dr Taha and Dr Ammash might be released.

But Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that Rihab Taha was a "highly valued prisoner" and there were "no immediate plans" to let her go.

Dr Taha is said to have carried out top-secret work during the 1980s on germs that cause botulism poisoning and anthrax infections.

Dr Ammash, a biotech researcher, was on the US list of the 55 most-wanted members of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Meanwhile, Iraqi militants who kidnapped two Italian women in Baghdad, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, have reportedly killed them.

In a message posted on the internet, a group calling itself the Jihad Organisation said they were executed because Italy had not withdrawn its forces from Iraq. There has been no confirmation of the report.

Tawhid and Jihad  - Arabic for "Monotheism and Holy War" -  has claimed responsibility for the slaying of at least seven hostages, including American Nicholas Berg. The group has also said it is behind a number of bombings and gun attacks.

Meanwhile , the spiritual mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been killed in a US air strike, associates and relatives said yesterday.

Omar Youssef Jumah, known as Abu Annas al-Shami, a Muslim cleric who justified Zarqawi's alleged beheading of hostages in Iraq, died last Friday while heading to the west of Baghdad, they said. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Shami called himself the grand mufti, or spiritual guide, of Zarqawi's Tawhid wal Jihad group.

In edicts published on Islamist web sites, Shami said Islam permitted the beheading of hostages who co-operated with the US military.

"Whenever a major kidnapping would take place they would take from him a ruling on how to handle the hostage according to religious sharia teachings," one Islamist activist said.

Shami's militancy was shaped by four years as a religious seminary student in Saudi Arabia, where he fell under the influence of the strict Wahhabi brand of Islam before returning to Jordan in 1991.
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