Kidnap claim in Iraq stirs ministry action

Posted in Koreas | 11-Jan-05 | Author: Brian Lee| Source: Joong Ang Daily

South Korean troops in Iraq.

January 11, 2005 - The Foreign Ministry said yesterday it is trying to confirm the veracity of a claim that an Islamic militant group is holding two South Koreans and vowing to kill them if South Korean troops in Iraq are not withdrawn.

Lee Kyu-hyung, Foreign Ministry spokesman, said yesterday that the threat was posted Thursday on an Arab language Web site based in Kuwait. The site is frequently used by Islamic militant groups for propaganda purposes.

The group said that it would also post pictures of the hostages, but has yet to do so. There was no information on who the South Korean hostages might be or where they might have been kidnapped. The threat was picked up yesterday in the afternoon by domestic intelligence organizations responsible for counter-terrorism operations.

With no photos surfacing and the deadline having passed, the Foreign Ministry cast its doubt on the credibility of the threat, but said it would continue its efforts to confirm it.

"It is true that 72 hours have passed," Mr. Lee said. "But there are uncertainties regarding the exact date the message was posted. It may not be exactly enforced so we are preparing for a number of possibilities."

The ministry has sought U.S. help. "Coalition forces headquarters has told us they do not have any relevant information," Mr. Lee said. "We also contacted various Arab media such as Al-Jazeera, but they, too, said they have no information." The security of South Koreans known to be in Iraq, including troops and embassy personnel, has been confirmed.

The official said that the government would check on possible entries into Iraq through adjacent countries in order to ensure that no unaccounted-for South Koreans are there.

South Korea experienced a tragic hostage situation last June when Kim Sun-il, an Arabic translator, was kidnapped and killed by Islamic militants.

In April, a group of seven South Korean missionaries was also held for several hours and then released. In November, the Foreign Ministry persuaded five evangelical missionaries in Iraq to leave the country after failing to bar their entry into Iraq by way of Jordan.

The South Korean government issued a virtual ban on travel to Iraq last year after the first kidnapping incident in April.

The South Korean National Assembly passed the mandate in December on South Korean troops deployed in Iraq granting a one-year extension.