Pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim extremists said they hanged Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins today in retaliation for the Israeli abduction of a Hezbollah spiritual leader, and the group holding another American hostage threatened to kill him.
The Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, an offshoot of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah or Party of God, released a videotape of a man who appeared to be Higgins hanging from a gallows and said they had killed him today.
Several hours later, the Revolutionary Justice Organization, another offshoot of Hezbollah, said it will kill American University of Beirut deputy comptroller Joseph Cicippio on Tuesday if Hezbollah leader Abdel Kareem Obeid is not released by Israel.
The threat against Cicippio came in a statement delivered to the office of the independent An-Nahar newspaper accompanied by a color photograph showing Cicippio bearded and smiling. There was no independent confirmation.
A color videotape delivered to Western news agencies in Beirut shortly after Higgins’ reported execution showed a man who appeared to be Higgins hanging from a gallows inside a room. The body was dressed in khaki fatigues and his hands and bare feet were bound.
The 30-second tape included a close-up shot that showed Higgins’ face clearly, and a United Press International reporter and other journalists who had seen other photographs and videotapes of Higgins said they were sure the dead man was the U.S. Marine officer.
There had been previous unconfirmed reports that Higgins died during torture shortly after he was kidnaped in February, 1988, and the Oppressed on Earth had threatened to kill Higgins twice before the most recent ultimatum. There was nothing in the videotape released today to show on what date it was taken.
‘Make Him a Lesson’
A one-page typewritten statement from the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth said Higgins was executed because “the criminal America did not consider our threats as serious.”
“The American spy was hanged at 3 p.m. (5 a.m. PDT) . . . to make him a lesson,” said the statement attached to the videotape. “We reiterate our stand that the sheikh (Obeid) must be freed along with his two brothers (relatives) because what will happen next will be worse.
“Let America and Israel shoulder the whole responsibility.”
A helicopter-borne Israeli commando force kidnaped Obeid and two of his relatives early Friday from a Shiite village in southern Lebanon and then flew them to Israel.
Higgins, 44, headed a U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon when he was kidnaped near the city of Tyre in February, 1988. He was one of 17 Westerners believed held hostage in Lebanon, including nine U.S. citizens.
Cicippio, 56, was kidnaped Sept. 12, 1986. The Revolutionary Justice Organization also claims to hold another American hostage, Edward Tracy, 55.
In the only previous reported hanging of a hostage, a videotape possibly showing British captive Alec Collett was released by his captors April 23, 1986, but the pictures were not clear and observers had doubts whether it was Collett who was shown.