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South Korean Hostage Beheaded in Iraq

Aired June 22, 2004 - 12:58   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hostage killed. A South Korean man reportedly killed by his Iraqi captors. We're covering the breaking developments right now in this story.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Pentagon papers. Memos released this hour about Donald Rumsfeld and interrogation tactics he approved for detainees held at Guantanamo.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kelly Wallace, here in Midtown Manhattan where the hottest author in America right now, former President Bill Clinton, just arrived for his book signing. A live report, coming up next.

PHILLIPS: From the CNN Center in Atlanta, hello, everyone, I'm Kyra Phillips. Miles is off today.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield. It's Tuesday, June 22 and CNN's LIVE FROM... begins right now.

We begin with a developing story out of Iraq. Iraqi militants have reportedly made good on their threat to kill a South Korean hostage. The Al-Jazeera television network reports kidnappers have killed the man. The 33-year-old businessman, Kim Sun-Il, was seen on video, pleading for his life. He was abducted last week and the kidnapper had given South Korea until yesterday to pull its troops from Iraq. The government refused that demand.

PHILLIPS: We're going to pick up that story now. Ken Robinson, our military intelligence analyst joining us here. We're actually just getting on the set as this story continues to develop.

I guess, first of all, did you expect this to happen, after what happened with Nicholas Berg and then the second civilian contractor in Saudi Arabia? Does it surprise you?

KEN ROBINSON, CNN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: It doesn't surprise us, Kyra. It's very sad. It's unfortunate. But it's a very effective tactic. They recognize that it's working in Saudi Arabia. It's working in Iraq. It's causing the infrastructure personnel, the contractors, to stop coming to work.

PHILLIPS: Does this tell us something that it's not just about Americans now?


PHILLIPS: Nick Berg, Paul Johnson, we thought this was about Americans. Now we're seeing these terrorists are going after other allies to this war on terrorism.

ROBINSON: It's about Iraqi governance, it's about the handoff, it's about the fear that they have about the type of government that may emerge after the United States leaves and Iraqis take over. It's trying to shape the international environment and the environment within Iraq to their own liking. The terrorists and the former Baathists, two separate groups, both working towards similar goals, want instability.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about this from a military perspective. And I know you've been in these situations before, do we negotiate, do we not negotiate? We don't negotiate with terrorists. Right now in the new environment where does the U.S. military stand? Do you negotiate with people like these extremist groups, when we see them come forward like this and threaten a life of an individual, like this young man? Do we automatically know it's just not going to happen, there will be no negotiation?

ROBINSON: As gut-wrenching as it is, if you negotiate one time, you open up a Pandora's box that who knows who can ever close again. You cannot negotiate with these terrorists. You must find them and you must destroy them. But more importantly, there needs to be a policy that finds that which enables them to recruit and retain and sustain themselves, that popular support that they have by populations who are disenfranchised. That is going after the disease, not the symptom.

PHILLIPS: Well, that's a grim reality we're obviously going to be talking about quite a bit. You'll stay with us.


PHILLIPS: We're going to continue to follow this story, talk some more. All right -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks, Kyra. Well, CNN's Sohn Jie-Ae has been covering this story, watching the developments from Seoul, South Korea. She joins us on the telephone now from Seoul.

And Jie-Ae, give us a sense as to what the reaction is there, now that the news is trickling in from Al-Jazeera television.

SOHN JIE-AE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, we just heard a report live on South Korean TV from a very grave South Korean foreign ministry spokesman. What he said was that on -- about 11:20 on twenty-second of June, it's now 2:00 in the morning on the twenty- third, so it's about three hours ago, that the South Korean authorities in Iraq were informed by U.S. military that a body that was looking to be -- that seemed to be of an Asian body, was found about 35 kilometers away from Fallujah.

The American military sent a picture through the Internet, through the -- to the South Korean embassy in Iraq and the South Korean authorities in Iraq identified the body as that of the kidnapped Kim Sun-Il. The spokesman -- South Korean foreign ministry spokesman, Shin Bong-Kil, also said that the head of the Gana Trading Company, the company which -- that Kim Sun-Il worked for, as well as the south -- other South Korean foreign ministry officials, were on their way to the site where the body was found to be able to correctly identify the body. South Korean foreign ministry at this point had nothing further to say, but at this point, South Korean foreign ministry was saying that they did believe that Kim Sun-Il had been killed -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. Let me ask you about the demands that were being made by the group that was holding Kim Sun-Il hostage. They were asking that South Korean troops get out of Iraq. The government said that they did at least encourage citizens to leave Iraq. What were the citizens of South Korea asking the government to do in this case?

SOHN: Well, the South Korean citizens were asking -- and the ones that we are talking about are the ones that were in the streets protesting, were asking the South Korean government to rethink the South Korean government's decision to send troops. The South Koreans have sent 600 military personnel, mostly medics and engineers, to Iraq already. But South Korea announced on Friday, which is about three days ago, that it -- announced a schedule for an additional 3000 troops to be sent to Iraq.

Now these troops would, South Korea authorities said, be used for reconstruction of Iraq, but they were going to be military troops. And South Korean government had made it very clear that they were not going to budge on this position because of the kidnapping -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Sohn Jie-Ae, thanks very much for that report out of Seoul, South Korea. Certainly heartbreaking news coming out of Iraq, sending the ripple effects through South Korea and the rest of the world -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: If you're just in, the developing story that we're following right now, it broke just a number of minutes ago, Iraqi militants reportedly making good on their threat to kill that South Korean hostage, a story we've been covering now for the past few days. Al-Jazeera television network reports the kidnappers have killed that man. The 33-year-old businessman, Kim Sun-Il, was seen on this videotape pleading for his life.

He was abducted last week. And the kidnappers had given South Korea until yesterday to pull its troops from Iraq. The government refused that demand. Ken Robinson, our military intelligence analyst, joining us once again.

Why don't we talk about the grand strategy here of the terrorists. Why South Korea, why this young man? Previously, we were seeing Americans being beheaded. Now the threat moved to a different country.

ROBINSON: The United States made a decision recently to take forces from the peninsula of South Korea and apply them to the global war on terrorism. As reaction to that, the South Koreans have been volunteering forces to come into Iraq, into the theater of operation, to assist. One of the concerns that South Koreans have had is a potential that we may be so distracted in the global war on terrorism that we really reduce our force structure on the Korean Peninsula.

And so what you're seeing is part of that larger strategy that al Qaeda for some time in terms of instability, and to play against weaknesses and to only apply and to meet us in areas where they feel they have strength. Their greatest strength is information warfare. You see with beheadings. Their greatest strength is being able to pick the time and the place that they attack, keeping us off center; because if you try to protect everything, you protect nothing.

The other area that they recognize is they can divide and conquer our weaker allies. The bombings in Madrid, right before the election, which caused the change in government that was not favorable to the coalition against the war on terrorism and in Iraq. And so each one these, they're trying to find areas, and probe in areas, where the United States may be weak or vulnerable, and apply pressure there.

PHILLIPS: As we continue our conversation, I just want to point out this video that was just in, if we want to show it again. This is brand-new video that we've just gotten in of the extremists, you see here, with the South Korean hostage, 33-year-old Kim Sun-Il.

Previously, the video we had seen, he -- it was not like this, it was actually a passionate plea from the young hostage. Now we are seeing the terrorists more in the picture here, alongside with the young man that we now have been told has been killed. That's according to Al-Jazeera television network that's reporting the death of this young man. Ken Robinson and I are talking about the grand strategy of the terrorists right now, starting to target countries like South Korea.

Let's talk about -- you were saying they pick the time and the place. They've taken advantage of info warfare. But, still, governments are refusing to negotiate with these extremist groups in these situations, whether it be the U.S., whether it be the Saudis, whether it be South Korea now. Why do they continue to use this tactic when it's obvious there will be no negotiations?

ROBINSON: Remember who their tactic is applied against. They're applying their tactic not against the government but against the populations, and the populations who may be providing infrastructure, providing contractors who are supporting a policy being pursued by the government. Their idea -- they know -- the governments aren't refusing to negotiate. They have a declared policy.

Most governments in the West all have a declared policy that says we do not negotiate. So there's not a case-by-case basis where there is going to negotiations. It's bottom line flat. And the reason that they do that is because if you negotiate once, no one anywhere is safe.

PHILLIPS: So you're saying, too, a big part of this is to scare off outside -- like civilian contractors, and all these other forces that are coming in to try and beat this war on terrorism. If the military is not going to negotiate, if the governments are not going to cave into the demands, you're saying they're trying to threaten the people, and threaten the civilian workers that come in and try to help these countries.

ROBINSON: Multinational corporations, United States corporations have a challenge. If they leave their workers in these locations, there's potential for them to be sued by the very families of the people who are killed because they know they're at risk. Their insurance policies that they have to pay for high-risk areas are skyrocketing. Their return on investment now -- many of these workers are working at risk, both at risk personally to themselves and their corporations are working at risk in terms of profit because of the way this war has gone; because their objective is to prevent infrastructure from being repaired.

If you can prevent infrastructure from being repaired, then the population can't be taken care of by the government. And if the population can't be taken care of by the government, it's disenfranchised. If the population is disenfranchised, then the terrorists can use that to their advantage to foster instability. Instability then leads to no governance. No governance then leads to a failed state. A failed state leads to Somalia and Afghanistan. This is all connected together.

PHILLIPS: Ken Robinson, our military intelligence analyst. Stay with us. We continue to follow this developing story.

Real quickly, once again, the 33-year-old businessman, Kim Sun- Il, seen on this videotape, pleading for his life. And now this new video just in. We are now being told that this man that was abducted last week has been killed by his kidnappers in South Korea -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Well, Kyra, now more on the sequence of events leading up to the beheading and after the beheading of Kim Sun-Il. From Iraq, Christiane Amanpour is there.

And apparently, Christiane, what we know about some of the sequence of events, that apparently the body of an Asian man was found just outside Fallujah. And the U.S. military was then able to transmit these images of the body to the South Korean embassy where a positive ID was made. What more do you know?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is exactly so. That's what we've just been told. In fact, a few minutes ago, we had called the South Korean embassy. And an obviously shaken ambassador told our colleague that he couldn't say anything and word would come out of Seoul. Well, that has been confirmed now.

And furthermore, the fact that the U.S. military has said that it did find the body of an Asian male and that indeed the South Korean embassy has identified that as the body of Kim Sun-Il, the 33-year-old contractor who has been killed by these militants who took him. This has been going on since June 17 when he was kidnapped.

He was removed from Baghdad and apparently taken to Fallujah, according to the sequence of events. And then, of course, on Sunday night, this video was released, saying that by Monday they would execute him if he did not manage to get -- or if they did not manage to get the South Korean government to remove their 600 or so troops they have here and to not send 3000 or so more that they planned to send.

South Korean government then sent negotiators to this region, and they were, we are told -- and we understand from all the reports that we've been trying to gather, they were in contact with clerics, who were trying to negotiate the release of Kim, this 33-year-old man.

Then it appeared that there was going to be an extension. He was due to have been killed, according to the terrorists, on Monday. But then there appeared to have been an extension until today, to give more time for these demands to be met. But now it seems that all efforts were futile and that he was the latest of these foreign contractors and other workers who have come here who have been kidnapped and executed.

WHITFIELD: Well, Christiane, do we know how involved exactly the South Korean government was willing to be in terms of negotiations? We know that they were encouraging South Korean citizen to leave Iraq. But was there any wiggle room on whether indeed the South Koreans would actually pull out troops or abandon any thought of sending any more troops?

AMANPOUR: Well, that doesn't appear so. And indeed, some of these reports coming out attributed to the terrorists who apparently have killed him is that they had told the South Koreans to stop, quote, "provocative remarks," about this issue. So it does not look there was any -- at least from the reports that we are hearing.

And of course, we are not in those negotiations, nor are we privy to what has gone on between the negotiators and their interlocutors here in Baghdad. But it appears that there has been a fairly standoff attitude while the negotiations were going on even by these terrorists who held Kim for this number of days before killing him.

WHITFIELD: Christiane Amanpour in Baghdad, thanks very much. We're going to be going back to you shortly. But for now, let's got to Donald Kirk, who is with the "Christian Science Monitor. And he is in Seoul, South Korea, and he joins us on the telephone.

And Donald, gives a sense as to what kind of reaction you're already able to receive there from the people in Seoul.

DONALD KIRK, SEOUL BUREAU CHIEF, "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR": The news has come as a complete shock. There was an atmosphere of cautious optimism. There were negotiations going on. There were reports that clerics had talked to the captors. There was an Iraqi representative of a Korean security firm who had some contact indirectly with the captors.

And there was a report that the president of the security firm, in fact, is already on his way to Baghdad to negotiate the hostage's release. And now suddenly comes this news about 30 minutes ago, announced by the South Korean foreign ministry, saying it is with great regret that we have to report -- with great sadness that we have to report that hostage Kim Sun-Il, in fact, has been killed. His body was found by U.S. soldiers about 35 kilometers from Baghdad on the road to Fallujah.

WHITFIELD: And, Donald, we don't know the circumstance of his death or just yet, how he was executed. I misspoke earlier saying he was beheaded. We're not quite certain of that as of yet. However there was a very emotional plea that everyone saw on tape of Kim Sun- Il. And how indeed did that hit home with the people there in Seoul?

KIRK: Well, it caused a tremendous emotional response here. There have been rising protests against South Korea's decision to send troops to Iraq. That's one area of response. There has also been the strictly human response of great grief.

The man's parents have been on television. He lives in Busan. They were joining demonstrator in Busan yesterday, pleading for his life, begging South Korea not to send troops to Iraq. I attended a candlelit vigil this evening in central Seoul. A light rain, thousands of policemen, several hundred, perhaps 1000, demonstrators, chanting slogans, demanding the return of Kim Sun-Il and the end of the South Korean plan to send troops to Iraq.

WHITFIELD: And you mentioned that there was, indeed, a great amount of optimism. People thought that perhaps he just might be able to be released unharmed. Was that optimism kicked up a notch, particularly with the family's plea that you mentioned on television, on the airwaves there?

KIRK: Actually, what created the optimism was the report from the Iraqi representative of a Korean securities firm that he'd been in touch with the hostage through Iraqi clerics and that negotiations were going on and in fact that they had extended the execution deadline.

They had a 24-hour execution deadline. And then earlier today, they extended the deadline seemingly indefinitely. So people thought, well, there's going to be a lot talk going back and forth and there's going to be a lot of statements, et cetera, et cetera. And eventually he'll be freed.

WHITFIELD: Separate from this hostage-taking, let's talk about the economic interest, the interest that South Korea had in Iraq and why it was so important economically for South Korea to continue its involvements with Iraq. For one it had helped build one of the most sizable buildings in Iraq. And apparently, South Korea was still owed $1 billion for Hyundai vehicles that were in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein regime. What more can you tell us about the economic interests?

KIRK: Actually, yes, that was Hyundai Engineering & Construction Company, which did most of the building in Iraq. And the company has pulled out most of its people, of course, but is hoping to get back into Iraq for more construction. More than $1 billion for a past construction projects is owed to Hyundai Engineering & Construction. They still want to get their money.

And many other South Korean firms are lining up, waiting for an opportunity to go to Iraq when it's safe and when they can get the contracts. And clearly that desire to get into Iraq, to get back into Iraq, has something to do with South Korea's decision to send 3000 more troops to Iraq, in addition to the 600 it already has there.

WHITFIELD: So that, then, brings us to full circle, why it was so difficult, in fact, perhaps for the South Korean government to try to negotiate some kind of plan that perhaps these hostage-takers would have agreed to in order to guarantee the release of Kim Sun-Il.

KIRK: Well, South Korea's foreign minister, Ban Ki-Moon, was on Al-Jazeera television, in fact, a couple of hours ago, he gave the interview about six hours ago, and it was aired several hours ago, pointing out that South Korea really had a role in rebuilding Iraq.

All these troops are there for reconstruction purposes and for medical purposes. The 600 whoa re already there are army engineers and medics. The 3000 who are going are mostly engineers and medics, some combat troops for defensive and protective purposes. But they're not going out on patrols. They're not going out on house-to-house searches. They're not blowing up buildings or looking for terrorists. They're there, as the foreign minister said, to help the people of Iraq rebuild the economy.

WHITFIELD: Donald Kirk, Seoul bureau chief of "Christian Science Monitor, thanks very much for joining us on the telephone -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Once again, if you're just tuning in, we are following the breaking news that the Iraqi militants have reportedly made good on their threat to kill the South Korean hostage. It's a story we've been covering for a number days now.

The Al-Jazeera television network reported that the kidnappers have killed 33-year-old businessman Kim Sun-Il. He was seen on the videotape, as you remember, pleading for his life as early as this morning.

I understand in the White House briefing, reporters that had just gotten the news of this killing, directed a question specifically to Scott McClellan, the White House spokesperson.

This is what he had to say just minutes ago.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We are continuing the war on terrorism and there simply is no justification for those kinds of atrocities that the terrorists carry out. You know, we've seen some of the barbaric nature of the terrorists recently when it comes to an American citizen that was killed in Saudi Arabia. And it is a reminder of the true nature of the terrorists.


PHILLIPS: Octavia Nasr, our senior editor on Arab affairs, joining us now. You actually were -- talked with Al-Jazeera network, you've been translating what has been said on the network. Why don't we start, first of all, with the translation you made of the statement, while listening to these extremists, while Sun-Il was still alive.

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SR. EDITOR, ARAB AFFAIRS: Well, as you said earlier, the new tape looks different, sounds different, and this is what made Al-Jazeera go with the breaking news that the hostage had been killed by the group, as they had promised.

The statement on the new tape -- if we can take a look at both tapes, first of all, so that we can see the difference between the old tape and the new tape. Look, on the left is the old tape with the hostage wearing his clothes, three militants in the back, look to the right, this is something that looks very much like the Nick Berg video, like the Johnson video. We're starting to see this more and more.

And there you can see a militant with the black mask wearing a dagger on his waist, which is very significant, and that of course is going to make people think of what's going to happen next on that video.

Also, that militant had a statement. And this is what he said. He said, to the South Korean citizens, he had a message. And the message is, we warned you. This is the result of your own doings. Basically blaming the South Korean people for not doing enough to pressure the government into pulling the troops out of Iraq. Enough lies, enough cheatings. Your soldiers are not here for the sake of the Iraqis, but they are here to serve the cursed America.

Very chilling words from that militant. And, of course, we do not know yet how the hostage was killed. Al-Jazeera is just saying he was executed. And we did get the confirmation from South Korea that, indeed, the body was recovered and identified. But very chilling moment. And Al-Jazeera the first to report it today.

PHILLIPS: Now, looking back to the Nick Berg situation and Paul Johnson, with the Paul Johnson -- before he was beheaded in Saudi Arabia, we saw a tremendous response from the Muslim world. High- ranking clerics, imams, Saudi friends of Paul Johnson. Did we see any type of support from the Muslim world with regard to the South Korean?

NASR: Not as much as the Johnson story. The Johnson story, for some reason, was more humanized. We were introduced -- by watching the media, we were introduced to Johnson, his family, because, you know, his wife lives -- or used to live in Riyadh. Al-Arabiya, for example, the Arab satellite channel based in Dubai and with a big office in Riyadh, went to her house, interviewed her at length.

She had a very emotional plea that the whole world was able to watch. So the Johnson story was more humanized on Arab media. This one, I guess I can say that it happened very quickly, didn't give people the chance to humanize it in the same way.

But observers are expecting the same reaction. These killings and kidnappings and beheadings and all of these deeds haven't been getting any positive response on Arab streets and in Arab media, and as you said, in Muslim mosques, and so forth. But you have to understand that there is still a group of people that supports these people. For example, the Web site where the news was first released, you know, talking about the hostage being executed, you see these messages, good job, let all the foreign troops leave Iraq.

So you still have a group that supports and encourages these deeds. But the majority of the people -- as we see on Arab media and as we read in Arab press, the majority of the people are totally against and they keep telling us that this is non-Islamic, this is not something that they will support or accept. Unfortunately, it seems like there's nothing they can do about it.

PHILLIPS: All right. Senior editor for Arab affairs, Octavia Nasr, thank you so much.

We're going to continue our coverage about the death of the young businessman in South Korea after a quick break.


WHITFIELD: This breaking story we're following for you. CNN confirms that Korean hostage Kim Sun-Il has been executed even though his captors had extended yesterday's deadline. The U.S. military personnel apparently found the body of an Asian man just outside of Fallujah earlier.

They were able to transmit photograph, images, to the South Korean embassy where they positively identified the victim as Kim Sun- Il. We're going to take a short break right now, continue on our breaking coverage in a moment.


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