Beheading: US victim refused to leave

Last updated at 11:09 12 May 2004

Nick Berg, the American civilian who was beheaded in a grisly video posted on an al-Qaida-linked website, had been warned to leave Iraq but refused, US officials said today.

The masked men who butchered him claimed they were angered by coalition abuses of Iraqi prisoners.

The American captive identified himself as Nick Berg, 26, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. His body was found near a highway overpass in Baghdad on Saturday, the same day he was beheaded, a US official said.

After pushing Berg to the floor, the men severed his head and held it up for the camera on the video. It bore the title "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American," referring to an associate of Osama bin Laden believed behind a wave of suicide bombings in Iraq.

A US official said Berg was in Iraq "of his own accord" and had been advised to leave Iraq but refused. The official refused to elaborate.

Detained by police

According to his family, Berg, a small telecommunications business owner, spoke to his parents on March 24 and told them he would return home on March 30. But he was detained by Iraqi police at a checkpoint in Mosul on March 24.

Berg was turned over to US officials and detained for 13 days. His father, Michael, said his son was not allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer.

On April 5, the Bergs filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the US military. The next day Berg was released. His family last heard from him on April 9 but it was unclear when and where he was abducted.

Although Berg was working on his own, US officials fear the savage killing might prompt more foreigners working on international reconstruction projects to flee the country.

Since the security situation deteriorated last month, about three out of 10 Americans and other non-Iraqis involved in reconstruction projects financed by the US Agency for International Development have fled Iraq, the USAID director Andrew Natsios said.

"Free spirit"

Friends and family of Berg said he was a "free spirit" who wanted to help others. They said he supported the Iraqi war and the Bush administration.

Michael Berg said his son saw his trip to Iraq as an adventure in line with his desire to help others.

Berg's family said they were informed by the State Department on Monday that he was found dead.

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