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Video said to show slaying of 12 hostages

BAGHDAD -- A gruesome video posted on a website purportedly showed militants beheading a Nepalese worker and shooting 11 others in the first mass slaying of foreign hostages during the Iraqi insurgency.

The executions would raise the number of foreign workers known to have been slain by extremists to at least 22 in a terror campaign aimed at forcing foreign troops and contract workers out of the country.

Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, promised retribution. "The only solution with this unjust group is to make them face justice," he told the Arab-language Al-Arabiya television station.

In Nepal, relatives grieved after hearing the news. "What sins have I committed to deserve this?" said Jit Bahadur Khadka, the father of one of those reportedly killed, 19-year-old Ramesh Khadka.

In another hostage crisis, French officials held talks in Paris and around the Arab world in hopes of saving the lives of two journalists held by other insurgents in Iraq. The kidnappers set a deadline of today for France to rescind its ban on Muslim head scarves in public schools, a demand France has said it won't meet.

Guerrillas in Iraq have taken more than 100 foreigners hostage in recent months, often demanding that the captives' home countries withdraw troops from the US-led coalition or pull out their citizens doing civilian work. Some have demanded that a hostage's employer promise to halt all business here.

Nepal, which has no troops in Iraq, has banned its citizens from working there because of security concerns. However, many people from the poor Asian nation take jobs abroad, and 17,000 Nepalese are believed to have slipped into Iraq, with many working as armed security guards for foreign contractors.

"We strongly condemn the terrorist act and urge the international community to speak against this terrorist act," Nepal's foreign minister, Prakash Sharan Mahat, said after an emergency Cabinet meeting held in Katmandu amid criticism the government did not do enough to save the men.

Meanwhile, there were conflicting indications over whether ongoing efforts to broker a truce between militants loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the government bore fruit yesterday. Iraqi police yesterday fanned out without incident through the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, which had been the scene of fierce clashes between Sadr loyalists and US troops in recent weeks. And Allawi told tribal leaders from Sadr City that the government had allocated $115 million to improve public services in the district, including water, electricity, and sewage.

"The resumption and the stability of life in your city and in the whole of Iraq is a very important issue," Allawi said.

The New York Times reported, however, that talks to disarm the insurgents in Sadr City collapsed after Allawi abruptly canceled a tentative peace pact. In a report today, the Times cited Mahdi Army commanders and unnamed Iraqi sources as saying that yesterday morning, Allawi backed out of the deal reached late Monday night.

Also yesterday, the second-ranking US diplomat in Iraq, James Jeffrey, met with Governor Adnan al-Zurufi in the holy city of Najaf, the center of a three-week uprising by Sadr followers that ended Friday. Jeffrey went to assess the "immediate needs of the city" and examine ways to rebuild it.

The 12 Nepalese hostages, who had been sent by a Jordanian firm to do construction work in Iraq, disappeared Aug. 19, soon after crossing into the country from Jordan in two cars.

The next day, an online statement from the little known Ansar al-Sunna Army claimed to be holding them and demanded Nepal stop sending workers.

The video yesterday showed a masked man in desert camouflage apparently slitting the throat of a blindfolded man lying on the ground. The victim moaned and a shrill wheeze was heard.

The masked man showed the severed head to the camera before throwing it in the dirt and later resting it on the victim's chest.

Other footage showed a militant with an assault rifle killing the other 11 men, who were lying face down on the ground, with a series of shots into their heads and backs. Blood seeped from their bodies onto the sand.

The apparent mass killing of hostages was a first. Previously, insurgents killed hostages in ones, and perhaps twos, in their campaign to force foreign troops and contract workers out of Iraq.

"America today has used all its force, as well as the help of others, to fight Islam under the so-called war on terror, which is nothing but a vicious crusade against Muslims," a statement on the website said.

The group also threatened anyone else working with US forces in Iraq, saying executions would befall "every agent, traitor, and spy."

Mahat, the Nepalese foreign minister, said his government would help the families "and take action against the people who sent them illegally to this dangerous area for work."

Iyad Mansoor, director general of the Morning Star Co., a Jordan-based services firm that employed the Nepalese, said he hired them through the Nepal-based Moonlight Co. to work in Jordan.

The Muslim Scholars Association, an influential Sunni Muslim group believed to have links to insurgents, condemned the claimed mass killing.

"We believe most of them were simple-minded and tempted to come to Iraq," Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi, a spokesman for the group, said of the Nepalese. "We wished they could have been released by the kidnappers so that they could have become messengers for their brothers to warn them not to come to Iraq."

In violence yesterday:

Unidentified gunmen killed Ibrahim Ismael, head of the education department in Kirkuk, police Colonel Sarhat Qadir said. Three of Ismael's bodyguards were wounded.

In south Baghdad, assailants attacked a police patrol with grenades, killing one officer and wounding two, said Naji Bahr Naji al-Khalidi, an official with Iraq's FPS security force.

Insurgents attacked a US patrol in Mosul, sparking a gun battle in which US troops wounded one of the assailants, the Army said. One civilian was killed and a second was wounded in crossfire, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Hastings said.

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