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Militants reportedly kill soldier

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi militants killed an American soldier they have held hostage for nearly three months, saying he was executed because the US government did not change its policy in Iraq, Al-Jazeera television said today.

The report of the killing of Specialist Keith M. Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio, came hours after the United States transferred sovereignty in Iraq to an interim government. The report did not say when Maupin was killed.

The US military said it could not immediately confirm whether a man shown being shot in a murky videotape was indeed Maupin, who was taken hostage after an April 9 attack outside Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the father of a US Marine who was reported kidnapped by militants issued a plea for his release yesterday. The captors of Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun have threatened to behead him.

Four other hostages -- three Turks and a Pakistani -- all face threats of beheading in the next two days in a new flurry of abductions and death threats in Iraq.

Al-Jazeera aired a video showing a blindfolded man sitting on the ground, identified as Maupin by a statement issued with the footage. Al-Jazeera said that in the next scene, gunmen shoot the man in the back of the head, in front of a hole dug in the ground. The station did not broadcast the killing.

Major Willie Harris, public affairs spokesman for the Army's 88th Regional Readiness Command, said the man in the footage could not be clearly identified but that the videotape is being analyzed by the Department of Defense.

"There is no confirmation at this time, that the tape contains footage of Matt Maupin or any other Army soldier," he said, adding that the Maupin family was briefed "as to the existence of a videotape."

Al-Jazeera said a statement was issued with the video in the name of a group calling itself "The Sharp Sword against the Enemies of God and His Prophet."

In the statement, the militants said they killed the soldier because the United States did not change its policies in Iraq and to avenge "martyrs" in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria.

Maupin was among nine Americans, seven of them contractors, who disappeared after an ambush on a convoy west of Baghdad on April 9.

The bodies of four civilian employees of Kellogg Brown & Root -- a subsidiary of Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's former company -- were later found in a shallow grave near the site of the attack. The body of Sergeant Elmer Krause, of Greensboro, N.C., was later found.

One civilian driver, Thomas Hamill of Macon, Miss, was kidnapped but escaped from his captors nearly a month later. The others are missing.

Maupin appeared days after the attack in a video showing him sitting on the ground in front of armed militants. There had been no word on his fate since.

Maupin -- who was assigned to the Army Reserve's 724th Transportation Company, based at Bartonville, Ill. -- was promoted in absentia on May 1 from private first class to the rank of specialist, said Major Mark Magalski, a spokesman for the 633d Quartermaster Battalion, based in Cincinnati.

His abduction came amid a wave of kidnappings in which dozens of foreigners were snatched. Most were later freed, though an Italian and a Lebanese man were killed.

More recently, the kidnappings have taken a more grisly turn with the kidnapping and subsequent beheadings of American Nicholas Berg last month and South Korean Kim Sun Il last week.

Hassoun, an American Marine of Lebanese descent, was shown blindfolded, with a sword brandished over his head in a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera on Sunday. The militants threatened to behead him unless all Iraqis "in occupation jails" are freed. They did not set a time frame.

"I appeal to the kidnappers, and to their conscience and faith, to release my son," his father, Ali Hassoun, said in an interview with the Associated Press at his house in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli.

"He is not a fighter. I hope that they will respond favorably to my appeal. May God reward them," he said.

Another of his sons, Sami, talked with worried relatives, who said contacts were underway with politicians and Muslim clerics in Lebanon and Islamist groups in Iraq to secure the Marine's release.

"We are trying to send word through all channels that he is Lebanese, Arab, and a Muslim," Abdullah Hassoun, a member of the extended family and head of the Al-Safira municipality, told AP.

The kidnappers asserted that they infiltrated a Marine outpost, lured Wassef Ali Hassoun outside, and abducted him.

The US military said Hassoun, 24, was last seen June 19 and did not report for duty the next day.

Hassoun had gone "on an unauthorized absence," said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the coalition deputy operations chief in Baghdad, giving few details.

Hassoun is originally from the northern Lebanese town of Al-Safira but lived in Tripoli until he emigrated in the early 1990s to the United States, where he gained citizenship. He lived with his eldest brother, Mohammad, in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan and later joined the Marines.

His kidnappers identified themselves as part of "Islamic Response," the security wing of the "National Islamic Resistance -- 1920 Revolution Brigades." The name refers to the uprising against the British after World War I. Other kidnappers have threatened to behead a Pakistani driver, Amjad Hafeez, by tomorrow and a group of three Turkish hostages by today unless their demands are met.

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