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Second U.S. hostage reported executed

A group led by a Jordanian militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said Tuesday that it had executed a second American hostage in two days and threatened to kill a British man who was abducted along with the two Americans last week.

A statement posted on an Islamic Web site by the Monotheism and Holy War group asserted that it had killed Jack Hensley, 48, a civil engineer from Marietta, Ga., and would soon post a video of the slaying on the site. The claim could not be independently verified, however, and the video had not been posted as of 3:30 a.m. local time today.

On Monday, the same group posted a video of what it said was the beheading of Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, 52, a Michigan native. The video appeared on the Internet about one hour after a statement announcing Armstrong's slaying.

The group said Tuesday that it intended to kill Kenneth Bigley, 62, a British engineer, unless authorities released all Muslim women from two U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, but it set no deadline.

Hensley's killing would be the fifth in the past 48 hours involving a hostage in Iraq, where insurgents in recent months have not only abducted scores of foreigners and Iraqis, but staged frequent attacks with bombs, mortars and firearms.

An estimated 300 people have been killed and hundreds injured during the past two weeks, as a deteriorating security situation has hampered reconstruction efforts and threatened to derail the process of establishing democratic rule in Iraq, starting with planned nationwide elections before the end of January.

Two U.S. Marines were killed Tuesday in separate attacks in the western province of Anbar, and four soldiers were injured when a car bomb exploded near a convoy on the perilous road to Baghdad International Airport, the U.S. military reported.

The abductions carried out by Zarqawi's organization have been confounding because of the elusive and perhaps unattainable demands of the kidnappers. After seizing Armstrong, Hensley and Bigley on Thursday, the group said the hostages would be killed unless all Muslim women were released from two prisons run by the U.S. military: Abu Ghraib outside Baghdad and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. The U.S. military says only two women are being held by U.S.-led forces and neither is confined at those prisons.

Zarqawi has been described by U.S. officials as an associate of al-Qaida and is perhaps the most wanted man in Iraq. U.S. forces have set a $25-million reward for information leading to his capture and staged repeated airstrikes on Fallujah, where the U.S. military suspects that Zarqawi has his base of operations.

The video of Armstrong's killing identified Zarqawi as the hooded assailant who is shown reading a statement and then severing the contractor's head with a large knife. In April, Zarqawi asserted responsibility for the beheading of another American civilian, Nicholas Berg, whose slaying was also depicted in an Internet video.

Hensley, Armstrong and Bigley all worked as civil engineers for Gulf Supplies and Commercial Services Co., a construction company based in the United Arab Emirates. They were helping to renovate the Taji military base north of Baghdad, which is used by the reconstituted Iraqi army.

Inmate deaths studied

WASHINGTON _ The Army is investigating the deaths of three Iraqis and an Afghan army recruit who were in American custody or came into contact with American forces, military investigators said Tuesday.

In Baghdad, the 1st Cavalry Division announced that it had charged two soldiers in connection with the deaths of three Iraqis, Reuters reported, but the Army gave no details about the incident.

Separately, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command said Tuesday that it had reopened an inquiry into the death of an 18-year-old Afghan army recruit who had been in U.S. custody at a base in Afghanistan. Seven other Afghan soldiers who were in custody have said that U.S. troops hung them upside down and beat them with cables, immersed them in cold water and then blackened their toes with electric shocks.

Abu Ghraib court-martial

FORT BRAGG, N.C. _ A military judge has recommended a court-martial for Pfc. Lynndie England in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, but said the young Army reservist was "easily led" and had been "heavily influenced" by an ex-boyfriend who is also charged in the case.

Army Reserve Col. Denise J. Arn, who presided over the pretrial hearing, recommended that the Fort Ashby, W.Va., woman be tried on 17 counts, including abuse and indecent acts.

Arn found insufficient evidence for two assault charges and rejected a prosecution request to add a charge of "maltreatment and cruelty" against the 21-year-old personnel clerk.

Emergency fund is tapped

WASHINGTON _ A relentless insurgency in Iraq has prompted the Pentagon to begin spending money from a $25-billion emergency fund that Bush administration officials had once said would not be needed this year, officials said Tuesday.

Unable to tap into regular 2005 funding until the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year, the Pentagon has already spent more than $2-billion from the emergency fund, which President Bush requested from Congress in May. The money will help pay for equipment for troops heading to Iraq this fall.

Information from the New York Times, Associated Press and Los Angeles Times was used in this report.