BAGHDAD, Iraq — Video posted yesterday on an Islamic militant Web site appeared to show the mass execution of 12 abducted Nepalese workers, marking the deadliest day for foreign civilians in Iraq since the United Nations headquarters was bombed in Baghdad more than a year ago.
The apparent slayings follow a spate of kidnappings and provide a chilling demonstration of the ferocity of an insurgent campaign that has drawn little distinction among foreigners on the basis of nationality, profession or status.
The name of the group claiming to have kidnapped the Nepalese, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, and the location where the workers were abducted, on the highway near Ramadi, which is west of Baghdad, suggest the slayings were the work of the Sunni insurgency that has roiled western and central Iraq.
The Nepalese were abducted on their way to work as cooks for a Jordanian service company. Truck drivers, journalists and Christian missionaries also have been swept up in the violence. More than 100 hostages have been taken in Iraq in recent months.
In Kathmandu today, dozens of people threw stones at a mosque and tried to set it on fire to protest against the killing.
Nepali police lobbed teargas shells as more than 1,000 demonstrators, some carrying Buddhist flags, burned tires at a main intersection 200 yards from the Jame Masjid mosque in the heart of the capital.
An Italian journalist was executed in Iraq last week. Other insurgents are holding two French journalists and have set today as the deadline for their government to repeal a ban on head scarves in public schools. French officials have refused to rescind the ban and are working in Paris and elsewhere to try to win the journalists’ release.
The attacks on foreigners have hampered military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and raised the costs of the occupation for the United States. Work on many projects has stopped or slowed because of fears of insurgent attacks on workers.
In the video released yesterday, the Nepalese are shown lying in a shallow ditch with their arms bound behind their backs. One man is beheaded with a knife; the others are then shot in their heads and backs with an assault rifle.
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi vowed retribution. “The only solution with this unjust group is to make them face justice,” he told the Arab-language Al-Arabiya television station.
Nepal has not sent troops to Iraq and has banned its citizens from going to Iraq to work. But many residents of the impoverished nation have gone anyway, joining tens of thousands of workers from developing countries who have come to staff the lower rungs of the reconstruction effort.
Some of the guards protecting the Green Zone housing the U.S. Embassy are former Nepalese Gurkha soldiers employed by a private contractor.
Ansar al-Sunna Army, a shadowy insurgent group, claimed responsibility for killing the Nepalese in a statement posted on the Web along with the video and still images of the execution.
“Do not sympathize with this impure group,” the statement said. “They have left their country and traveled thousands of kilometers to work with the crusader American forces and to support it in its war against Islam and the holy warriors.”
American journalist Micah Garen was released unharmed last week after being held by a separate group sympathetic to the Shiite uprising led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Prominent clerics associated with al-Sadr made unusual and public pleas for Garen’s release, denouncing the kidnapping as “un-Islamic” and citing Garen’s work exposing the theft of Iraqi antiquities as beneficial to the community.
The Shiite sect follows a more hierarchical religious leadership than Sunni Muslims, and prominent Shiite clerics traditionally are accorded greater authority among the faithful than their Sunni counterparts.
Sunni insurgents also have directly targeted foreign civilians in attempts to disrupt the efforts of the U.S.-led coalition. The attacks have included drive-by shootings on vehicles carrying foreigners, the lynching in Fallujah of American security workers and the more recent spate of kidnappings.
Foreign workers play a crucial role in supporting the U.S. military as well as reconstruction efforts. Military bases depend on non-Iraqi employees to prepare food and deliver fuel.
Also yesterday, unidentified gunmen killed Ibrahim Ismael, head of the education department in the northern city of Kirkuk, police Col. Sarhat Qadir said.
Reuters contributed to this report.