BAGHDAD (AFP) - A group linked to Al-Qaeda in Iraq released a video on Sunday showing masked militants gunning down a group of kidnapped police officers in cold blood.
The video opened with the men, all blindfolded, sitting in rows and an on-screen message which blames the executions on the Iraqi government for ignoring the demands of the so-called "Islamic State of Iraq".
The footage then showed masked gunmen, chanting praise to God, standing behind a long row of men kneeling in a muddy ditch amid a grove of trees, their hands tied behind their backs.
The gunmen then began firing at the backs and the heads of the men, who slumped forward one after another. The gunmen continued firing at their bodies, still chanting.
"This operation is only a drop in the bucket, and what will come is more wicked and bitter, with the permission of Allah the Almighty," a message on the screen warned.
Interior ministry operations director Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf told AFP on Saturday that 14 officers missing after their convoy was ambushed on Thursday had been found dead in Baquba, north of Baghdad, in Dyala province.
Shortly afterwards, a coalition of insurgent groups led by Al-Qaeda and known as the "Islamic State of Iraq" said in an Internet message the hostages would be killed to avenge the alleged rape of a Sunni woman by Shiite police.
On Friday, a second message said the killings had been carried out and promised that a video of the murders would be released. Neither the authenticity of the statement nor of the video could be verified.
The killings were condemned by US military officer Major General Benjamin Mixon, commander of a force operating in Dyala province, who said the men had been "murdered in cold blood."
"The recent kidnapping and murder... is a clear sign to Iraq that the insurgents are desperate, under a great deal of pressure, and are resorting to heinous acts to further their cause," Mixon said in a statement.
"These Iraqi police officers were murdered in cold blood, and they had absolutely nothing to do with any incidents of rape, as alleged by these deceitful terrorists," he added.
"This was a cowardly act targeting policemen on their way home from work."
Al-Qaeda's Internet statement had demanded that "officers that participated in the horrible act" be turned over to the insurgents and that "all Sunni Muslims held in interior ministry prisons be released."
Al-Qaeda gave the government 24 hours to meet its demands, and warned that the hostages would otherwise be killed.
The alleged rape of the woman -- known under the apparent pseudonym Sabrin al-Janabi -- triggered a bitter row at the highest levels of the Iraqi state.

Copyright 2007 Agence France Presse