The video bore the title "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American." It was unclear whether al-Zarqawi — an associated of Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) — was shown in the video, or was claiming responsibility for ordering the execution.
Al-Zarqawi also is said to have ties to terrorist groups ranging from Ansar al Islam in Iraq to Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He's believed to be behind many attacks in Iraq, including numerous high-profile operations.
The video pictures of the execution showed five men wearing headscarves and black ski masks, standing over a bound man in an orange jumpsuit — similar to a prisoner's uniform — who identified himself as Nick Berg, a U.S. civilian whose body was found on a highway overpass in Baghdad on Saturday.
"My name is Nick Berg, my father's name is Michael, my mother's name is Suzanne," the man said on the video. "I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in ... Philadelphia."
There was no way to be certain the tape was authentic.
After reading a statement, the men were seen pulling the man to his side and putting a large knife to his neck. A scream sounded as the men cut his head off, shouting "Allahu Akbar!" — "God is great." They then held the head out before the camera.
Berg's family said Tuesday they knew their son had been decapitated, but didn't know the details of the killing. When told of the video by an Associated Press reporter, Berg's father, Michael, and his two siblings hugged and cried.
"I knew he was decapitated before. That manner is preferable to a long and torturous death. But I didn't want it to become public," Michael Berg said.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, traveling with President Bush (news - web sites) in Arkansas. "It shows the true nature of the enemies of freedom. They have no regard for the lives of innocent men, women and children. We will pursue those who are responsible and bring them to justice."
Because Berg was a U.S. citizen, the FBI (news - web sites) has jurisdiction to investigate the case as a criminal matter. A senior law enforcement official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the FBI would probably get involved so long as adequate security is provided by the military for investigators to do their work.
On the Web site, one of the executioners read a statement:
"For the mothers and wives of American soldiers, we tell you that we offered the U.S. administration to exchange this hostage with some of the detainees in Abu Ghraib and they refused."
"So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins ... slaughtered in this way."
The Web site on which the video was posted is known as a clearing house for al-Qaida and Islamic extremist groups' statements and tapes. An audiotape purportedly from bin Laden — which the CIA (news - web sites) said was probably authentic — appeared on the same Web site last week.
Western officials say al-Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmad Fadhil al-Khalayleh, is a lieutenant of bin Laden. The United States has offered $10 million for information leading to the capture or killing of al-Zarqawi, saying he is trying to build a network of foreign militants in Iraq to work for al-Qaida.
In the video, the speaker threatened both President Bush and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
"As for you Bush ... expect severe days. You and your soldiers will regret the day you stepped into the land of Iraq," he said. He described Musharraf as "a traitor agent."
The slaying recalled the kidnapping and videotaped beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 in Pakistan. Four Islamic militants have been convicted of kidnapping Pearl, but seven other suspects — including those who allegedly slit his throat — remain at large.
Suzanne Berg, the mother of the 26-year-old Berg, of West Chester, Pa., said her son was in Iraq as an independent businessman to help rebuild communication antennas. He had been missing since April 9, she said.
"He had this idea that he could help rebuild the infrastructure," she said.
The U.S. military Tuesday said an American civilian was found dead in Baghdad, but did not release his identity. State Department spokeswoman Susan Pittman said she couldn't release the name of the dead American, but said she not aware of more than one civilian found dead in recent days.
The military said there were signs of trauma to the body. Suzanne Berg said she was told her son's death was violent but did not want to discuss details.
Berg, who was in Baghdad from late December to Feb. 1, returned to Iraq in March. He didn't find any work and planned again to return home on March 30, but his daily communications home stopped on March 24. He later told his parents he was jailed by Iraqi officials at a checkpoint in Mosul.
"He was arrested and held without due process," his father, Michael Berg, told the Daily Local News of West Chester recently. "By the time he got out the whole area was inflamed with violence.
The FBI on March 31 interviewed Berg's parents in West Chester. Jerri Williams, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia FBI office, told The Philadelphia Inquirer the agency had been "asked to interview the parents regarding Mr. Berg's purpose in Iraq."
On April 5, the Bergs filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military. The next day Berg was released. He told his parents he hadn't been mistreated.
The Bergs last heard from their son April 9, when he said he would come home by way of Jordan, Turkey or Kuwait. But by then, hostilities in Iraq had escalated.
Suzanne Berg on Tuesday said she was told her son's body would be transported to Kuwait and then to Dover, Del. She said the family had been trying for weeks to learn where their son was but that federal officials had not been helpful.
"I went through this with them for weeks," she said. "I basically ended up doing most of the investigating myself."