Bigley beheaded by Iraqi militants

The Americans were filmed being beheaded in the week after the three were seized by gunmen from their Baghdad house.

The video shows Mr Bigley pleading for his life as six men stand behind him. One reads a statement, then cuts off Mr Bigley’s head with a knife and brandishes it.

The murder comes despite secret 11th-hour efforts by London to free Mr Bigley from kidnappers whose video messages had played on British emotions on the war in Iraq for three weeks.

The kidnappers, allegedly led by al-Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have repeatedly released videos of a distraught Mr Bigley begging British Prime Minister Tony Blair to save him.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain’s last minute attempts to save Mr Bigley was “an attempt to dissuade them from carrying out their threat” but the kidnappers stuck to demands for the release of female prisoners in Iraq.

The messages between London and the kidnappers began after a man approached the British embassy in Baghdad four days ago “presenting himself as a potential intermediary,” Mr Straw said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said the jihad group led by al-Zarqawi had planned to kill Mr Bigley from the outset.

“Their intention from the start was to kill him, but they were trying to exploit this matter for a long time for publicity. Their intention was to kill him,” Mr Allawi says.

There was speculation that Mr Bigley may have been killed because of a rescue attempt or sweeps by U.S. forces. But Mr Allawi said that while there had been intense efforts to secure Mr Bigley’s release, there was no attempt to free him by force.

British officials also denied there a botched rescue bid.

Some 30 foreign hostages have been killed in Iraq. Two Westerners are still being held, French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot. They have been seized by a different militant group, the Islamic Army in Iraq.

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