Sat, 15 May 2004

Local religious leaders deplore beheading video

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Jakarta

Religious leaders expressed deep concern on Friday over the brutal murder of an American citizen in Iraq, saying the act would only maintain the vicious cycle of violence in the country.

"If the video is authentic, it's inhumane behavior. No religion, nor social norm condones such an act," said Goodwill Zubir, secretary-general of the country's second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah, on Friday.

He was commenting on a video showing the beheading of 26-year- old contractor Nick Berg by a group of hooded men.

Zubir said the beheading was likely an act of revenge over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

"This is a spiral of inhumanity," he said.

Ahmad Bagja, deputy chairman of the country's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) -- which claims to have around 40 million members -- shared Goodwill's opinion.

"What has been done by the Iraqi men is as inhumane as the abuses committed by U.S. soldiers," he said, adding that the U.S could no longer claim the moral high ground in Iraq.

The video, showing Berg's last moments, was first posted on Tuesday by the Muntada al-Ansar website. It showed five masked men standing behind Berg.

One of them read a statement urging Muslims to seek revenge for Iraqi prisoners abused by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison. The masked men then pushed Berg to the floor and one of them cut Berg's head off with a large knife.

The video, which is yet to be confirmed authentic, surfaced amid shock over pictures showing the maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners of war by U.S. soldiers. The photos were published by media around the world.

Zubir and Bagja called on both sides to stop the violence as it would not improve the situation in Iraq, which the United States invaded and occupied in 2003.

"The whole thing was wrong from the beginning. The U.S-led coalition occupied Iraq illegally," Bagja said.

He said, the U.S. should not hesitate to hand full sovereignty over to the Iraqis, which has been anticipated since the repressive regime of former president Saddam Hussein.

"If they invaded Iraq to liberate the people, they should not repeat the same mistakes (of the old regime)," Bagja said.

The United States must accommodate the aspirations of Iraqi people before endorsing the UN resolution on the official end of the occupation by June 30.

Zubir called on the United Nations (UN) to end the violence in Iraq.

"It might be not fair on the UN, which was not involved in the invasion, but it must step in to ease the bloody conflict," he said

Zubir also called on the people of Iraq not to use violence in facing "the repressive acts of U.S. soldiers".