BAGHDAD, Aug. 31 -- A militant Iraqi group announced on Tuesday the killing of 12 Nepali hostages kidnapped earlier this month and posted graphic footage on a Web site showing one being beheaded and the others shot to death.
The slaying, if confirmed, would mark the largest mass killing of foreign captives since a wave of kidnappings began in April.
It also underscored the peril faced by two French journalists being held by a separate group that has set a deadline of Tuesday night for France to rescind a ban on Muslim head scarves in schools.
The slain men were described by their Jordanian employer as cooks and cleaners who were kidnapped earlier this month while traveling overland from Jordan to work as third-country nationals. Their captors said they were being punished for working with U.S. forces in Iraq.
" We have carried out the sentence of God against 12 Nepalis who came from their country to fight the Muslims and to serve the Jews and the Christians ... believing in Buddha as their God," said a statement issued by the Army of Ansar al-Sunna.
The group is believed to be an outgrowth of Ansar al Islam, a fundamentalist militia associated with al Qaeda that held a corner of northern Iraq until being defeated on the battlefield in April 2003 by a joint offensive involving U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish militias.
The video showed a masked man in military fatigues beheading one hostage as he lay blindfolded on dusty gray soil and holding up his severed head. Eleven more men were then executed by a single shot to the back of the head as they lay face down.
In Katmandu, Nepal's Foreign Miniser Prakash Sharan Mahat said officials were still checking the reports. "If it is true it is shocking because there were no demand or deadlines," he said, according to the Associated Press.
The slaying roughly doubled the number of hostages killed in Iraq since April, when the abduction of foreigners and the use of videos emerged as a tactic of terrorists and insurgents alike in Iraq.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac led a major diplomatic effort to save the two French reporters, who were shown on Arab television Monday expressing fear for their lives and calling on the government to lift the ban, the AP reported.