The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq has purportedly appeared in video as the executioner of a Turkish hostage - making his first appearance since taking over the group in June - according to a statement posted with the recording on the Internet.
The items were posted Friday night just after Sunni Iraqi clerics announced that Ramadan would begin Saturday. The statement said the recording, the authenticity of which could not be independently verified, was "old," but gave no other indication about when it was made.
Only Sunni Muslims are observing the holy month of fasting on Saturday, because the Iraqi state has not declared its start and neither have leading Shiite Muslim clerics.
Abu Ayyoub al-Masri, a Sunni Muslim who is also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, assumed leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was slain in a June 7 US airstrike.
A statement appeared in his name shortly after al-Zarqawi's death and earlier this month an audio recording attributed was posted on the Internet. Friday's tape is the first time he has shown himself.
Al-Masri is identified on the basis of the statement accompanying the recording that says he performed the execution. The militant appears flanked by two others bearing automatic weapons, their faces obscured by red and white scarves.
The militants stand behind a man wearing a tan shirt who is silent while al-Masri reads from a paper, criticizing companies and people working with the US military.
"Although we have urged Muslims around the world and in Turkey, in particular, ... they insist, including this apostate," al-Masri said in Arabic.
The hostage, reading from a statement in Turkish that is translated into Arabic by subtitles, identifies himself as Murad Buger, an employee of a Turkish company subcontracting for a Jordanian company that provides services to US military bases.
"I have seen the injustice of the Americans with my own eyes but I stayed for few dollars," Buger said, adding, "torture is intensifying in Abu Ghraib (prison)." He also urged Turkish companies to withdraw from Iraq.
Al-Masri then shoots Buger in the head three times.
The militants stand in front of a blank banner declaring "There is no God but God" and depicting the symbol of the sun, which often appears in al-Qaida in Iraq videos. But they block from view most of the remainder of the Arabic inscription.
The video might not be new but would have to be analyzed before reaching any conclusions, a US official said on condition anonymity because he did not want to be named for security reasons.
On June 16, the US military announced that al-Masri, an Egyptian explosives expert who trained with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, was is the new face of al-Qaida in Iraq.
The military released a photograph of a bearded man in a traditional white Arab headdress that it said was al-Masri.
In the first audio recording attributed to al-Qaida in Iraq's new leader, which appeared Sept. 7, he condemned Sunni Muslims cooperating with the Iraqi government.
Al-Masri's virtual silence has been in sharp contrast with al-Zarqawi, who put himself forward as a hero of the mujahedeen, or holy warriors, frequently issuing audiotapes - and even a videotape that showed his face a few weeks before he was killed.
Executions shown in militant videotapes have usually been performed by slitting the throat.
Some Islamic countries began observing Ramadan Saturday, for others it starts Sunday. Differences between countries and even between the two main sects of Islam are common because of different methods to determine the start of the month.
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