The beheaded body of South Korean translator Kim Sun-il was found on the road between Baghdad and Falluja. Arabic channel Al-Jazeera said it had received a video saying a group identifying itself as Jamaat al-Tawhid & Jihad had claimed responsibility for the execution. The group, led by prominent Al-Qaeda member Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also carried out the execution of US hostage Nick Berg and attacks on senior Iraqi figures, including Iraq governing council head Ezzedine Salim.

Kim’s captors had demanded that South Korea pull its troops out of Iraq and cancel further deployment plans by the evening of 21 June, otherwise Kim would face execution. Seoul held an overnight emergency meeting of the National Security Council after the execution and reaffirmed plans to send 3,000 troops to Iraq from August.

President Roh condemned the beheading as a ‘crime against humanity’ and said Seoul would deal resolutely with terrorism, while the UN also condemned the killing as an unjustifiable and ‘heartless crime’.

Al-Zarqawi’s group was attributed to a threat on 23 June to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. The audio recording was broadcast on a website carrying the name of Zarqawi’s group. ‘As for you Allawi – sorry, the democratically-elected prime minister – we have found for you a useful poison and a sure sword,’ it said.

US forces on 22 and 23 June launched an air strike in Falluja targeting Al-Zarqawi for his participation in the executions. Three people were killed and several injured in the strike, doctors said. A US army spokesman said the air attack was a ‘precision strike’ based on strong intelligence, although residents claimed the target was a civilian one. ‘Wherever and whenever we find elements of the Zarqawi network, we will attack them,’ said US military spokesman Mark Kimmitt.

Meanwhile on 23 June, a roadside bomb exploded near Baghdad’s Kindi Hospital, killing a policeman, a woman and her child, police confirmed.