Killing of Nick Berg

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Nick Berg
Nicholas Evan Berg

(1978-04-02)April 2, 1978
DiedMay 7, 2004(2004-05-07) (aged 26)
Cause of deathDecapitation
Resting placeMontefiore Cemetery, Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
OccupationFreelance radio-tower repairman
Parent(s)Michael Berg, Suzanne Berg

Nicholas Evan Berg (April 2, 1978 – May 7, 2004) was an American freelance radio-tower repairman[1] who went to Iraq after the United States' invasion of Iraq. He was abducted and beheaded according to a video released in May 2004 by Islamist militants in response to the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse involving the United States Army and Iraqi prisoners. The CIA claimed Berg was murdered by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.[2] The decapitation video was released on the internet, reportedly from London to a Malaysian-hosted homepage by the Islamist organization Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Berg was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and grew up in West Whiteland Township, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia.[4] He was referred to as a "religious Jew."[4]

Berg graduated from Henderson High School in West Chester in 1996.[5][6] In 1996, he was a student at Cornell University[7] but later dropped out.[8]

He took classes at Drexel University in 1998,[9] and, in 1999, attended summer sessions on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.[7] At some point, Berg took a class at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.[10] He never earned a college degree.[7]

In 2002, with family members, Berg created Prometheus Methods Tower Service.[8] He inspected and rebuilt communication antennas, and had previously visited Kenya and Uganda on similar projects. Berg set up a subsidiary of his company, Prometheus Tower Services, Inc., in Kenya.[11][when?]

Travels and detention[edit]

Berg first arrived in Iraq on December 21, 2003, and made arrangements to secure contract work for his company. He also went to the northern city of Mosul, visiting an Iraqi man whose brother had been married to Berg's late aunt. Leaving on February 1, 2004, he returned to Iraq on March 14, 2004, only to find that the work he was promised was unavailable.[citation needed] Throughout his time in Iraq, he maintained frequent contact with his family in the United States by telephone and email.[citation needed]

Berg had intended to return to the United States on March 30, 2004, but he was detained in Mosul on March 24.[12] His family claims that he was turned over to U.S. officials and held for 13 days[13][14] without access to legal counsel. FBI agents visited his parents to confirm his identity on March 31, 2004, but he was not immediately released.[citation needed] After his parents filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia on April 5, 2004, claiming that he was being held illegally, he was released from custody. He said that he had not been mistreated during his confinement. The U.S. maintains that at no time was Berg in coalition custody, but rather that he was held by Iraqi forces. The Mosul police deny they ever arrested Berg, and Berg's family has turned over an email from the U.S. consul stating "I have confirmed that your son, Nick, is being detained by the U.S. military in Mosul."[15] According to the Associated Press, Berg was released from custody on April 6, 2004 and advised by U.S. officials to take a flight out of Iraq, with their assistance. Berg is said to have refused this offer and traveled to Baghdad, where he stayed at the Al-Fanar Hotel. His family last heard from him on April 9, 2004. Berg had his last contact with U.S. officials on April 10, 2004 and did not return again to his hotel after that date. He was interviewed for filmmaker Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11.[16] Moore chose not to use the footage of his interview with Berg, but instead shared it with Berg's family following his death.


Berg's family became concerned after not hearing from him for several days. Although a U.S. State Department investigator looked into Berg's disappearance, official government inquiries produced no leads. His family, frustrated with what they say was a lack of action by the U.S. government, also hired a private investigator and contacted both their Congressional delegation and the Red Cross in search of information.[citation needed]

According to The Guardian it is unclear how Berg came to be kidnapped.[17]


A photo of a young man with a beard and overgrown hair, dressed in orange, seated on the floor as five men stand over him. The men wear black, face coverings, face masks and military vests. The man in the center holds a plaque with unreadable text. The photo is very blurry.
Nick Berg seated, with five men standing over him. The man directly behind him, said to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is the one who beheaded Berg.

Berg's body was found decapitated on May 8, 2004, on a Baghdad overpass by a U.S. military patrol. Berg's family was informed of his death two days later. Military sources stated publicly at the time that Berg's body showed "signs of trauma", but did not disclose that he had been decapitated.

On May 11, 2004, the website of the militant jihadist forum Muntada al-Ansar[18] posted a video with the opening title of "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughters an American", which shows Berg being decapitated. The video is about five and a half minutes long. The video shows Nick Berg, seated, facing the camera and his captors standing behind him also facing the camera.[19] Berg is wearing an orange jumpsuit, similar to ones worn by prisoners in U.S. custody.[20] His captors are all masked, their identities concealed.[20] He identifies himself: "My name is Nick Berg, my father's name is Michael, my mother's name is Suzanne. I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in West Chester, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia." A lengthy statement is read aloud. The masked men then converge on Berg. Two of them hold him down, while one decapitates him with a knife.


The video title claims the decapitator was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,[21] but this can not be determined as all the men are masked.[20] Berg screams as the masked men shout "Allahu Akbar". After the head is severed, one of the men displays the head to the camera, then lays it down on the decapitated body. During the video, the masked man reading the statement said the killing was in revenge for the abuse at Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse. The man says Muslims should seek vengeance for Abu Ghraib, and that the Muslim clergy had been complacent.[22][20] The man also threatens further deaths, and makes specific threats to U.S. President George W. Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.[17]

Media in the United States and around the world grappled with the question of how much graphics to print. The Dallas Morning News showed an image in which the killer holds Berg's severed head, while Seattle Times only displayed the image of the killer. British newspaper The Independent urged restraint, arguing the video was propaganda and publishing images from it "plays into the hands" of terrorists.[23]


Berg's killing was condemned by the Arab League, and United Nations, as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and UAE.[24][25] Many others in the Muslim world also condemned the killing,[26][27] and BBC journalist Paul Wood found that the "Arab street" condemned the killing of Berg, saw it as contrary to Islam, and saw it as a reaction to US prison abuses.[28]

Encounter with Zacarias Moussaoui[edit]

On May 14, 2004, it was revealed that Nick Berg had come up during the U.S. government's investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, a 9/11 conspirator. Berg's email address had been used by Moussaoui prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks. According to Berg's father, Nick Berg had a chance encounter with an acquaintance of Moussaoui on a bus in Norman, Oklahoma. This person had asked to borrow Berg's laptop computer to send an email. Berg gave the details of his own email account and password, which were later used by Moussaoui. The FBI found that Berg had no direct terrorism connections or direct link with Moussaoui.[29]

Arrests and confessions[edit]

On May 14, 2004, citing "Iraq sources", Sky News reported that four people had been arrested for the murder.[citation needed] Two were later released.[30] Alternatively, on July 5, 2004, Sky News reported that four men were arrested in connection with the Nick Berg decapitation.[31] Suspects arrested for Berg's killing were former members of Fedayeen Saddam paramilitary group.[32]

On August 5, 2004, Le Nouvel Observateur published a feature story by Sara Daniel[33] detailing her meeting with one Abu Rashid, a leader of the Mujahideen Council in Fallujah. He claims that he killed Nick Berg, Kim Sun-il and Iraqis who collaborated with U.S. forces. He also states that they attempted a prisoner exchange with Berg but were rebuffed by American officials.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Urbina, Ian (March 29, 2006). "Son's Death in Iraq Prompts Bid for Congress". The New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  2. ^ "'Zarqawi' beheaded US man in Iraq". BBC News. May 13, 2004. Retrieved March 18, 2010.
  3. ^ "SMH". May 29, 2004. Retrieved March 18, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Dao, James; Jones, Richard Lezin; Hauser, Christine; Lichtblau, Eric (May 26, 2004). "Visions & suspicions: the entrepreneur; Tracing a Civilian's Odd Path To His Gruesome Fate in Iraq". The New York Times. Iraq. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  5. ^ "Beheading Victim 'Loved Adventure and Risk'". Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  6. ^ "Friends, Kin Mourn Berg". Fox News. May 12, 2004. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c "The Daily Pennsylvanian :: Phila. man beheaded in Iraq linked to Penn, Drexel". Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  8. ^ a b LAURA MANSNERUS & JAMES DAO (May 12, 2004). "The Struggle for Iraq – The Family – From Strange Encounter With Iraqi Police to Fatal Capture by Islamic Terrorists". The New York Times. Laura Mansnerus reported from West Whiteland Township for this article and James Dao from Washington. Contributing reporting were Jessica Bruder from West Whiteland Township and Thomas J. Lueck and Sabrina Tavernise from New York. Mosul, Iraq. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  9. ^ "Hundreds mourn Nicholas Berg They valued his adventure, humor, drive -". May 14, 2004. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  10. ^ "Arrests in abduction of American worker - World news - Mideast/N. Africa - Conflict in Iraq". NBC News. May 21, 2004. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  11. ^ [1] Archived June 14, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "". May 29, 2004. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  13. ^ "Friend: Berg said he was in U.S. custody". May 13, 2004. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  14. ^ "Middle East | 'Zarqawi' beheaded US man in Iraq". BBC News. May 13, 2004. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  15. ^ "E-mail from consul confirms Berg was in U.S. military hands". Archived from the original on February 6, 2005. Retrieved May 28, 2004.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link), WKRN
  16. ^ Moore interviewed Berg for "Fahrenheit", Salon (magazine), May 27, 2004
  17. ^ a b "American beheaded in revenge for torture". The Guardian.
  18. ^ [2]- website where decapitation video was reposted, now offline. See Archived May 7, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Barbie Zelizer. About to Die: How News Images Move the Public. Oxford University Press. p. 285.
  20. ^ a b c d Dexter Filkins (May 12, 2004). "Iraq Videotape Shows the Decapitation of an American". New York Times.
  21. ^ Die Welt , 20 November 2014.
  22. ^ "Video Shows Beheading of U.S. Hostage As Violence Continues in Iraq".
  23. ^ Barbie Zelizer. About to Die: How News Images Move the Public. Oxford University Press. pp. 288–9.
  24. ^ "Powell: Arab world should be more outraged". CNN.
  26. ^ Lawrence Pintak. reflections in a Bloodshot Lens. Pluto Press. p. 286. Such tit-for-tat brutality disgusted mainstream Arabs and Muslims, who condemned the executions as loudly as they condemned Abu Ghraib.
  27. ^ "MUSLIMS CONDEMN REPREHENSIBLE NICK BERG KILLING". Muslim Council of Britain. May 12, 2004.
  28. ^ Paul Wood. "Arab reaction: Slaying linked to abuses".
  29. ^ Berg's encounter with 'terrorist' revealed, CNN, May 14, 2004
  30. ^ "Four Arrested In Nick Berg Beheading, Two Later Released - News, Weather & Sports". May 21, 2004. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  31. ^ "Iraq: Four Arrested Over Berg Killing". July 5, 2004. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  32. ^ "Four Saddam fedayeen arrested for American's beheading". Gulf News/AP. May 22, 2004.
  33. ^ "Reportages:". Retrieved March 18, 2010.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hayes, Jonathan. "Second Opinion." New York Magazine. "A New York City medical examiner watches the video of Nick Berg’s beheading and wishes he’d looked away."

External links[edit]