"I took part in the decapitation of 10 Iraqis, all of them policemen," a man who gave his name as Muhammad Hamud Muhammad Musa and claimed he was Sudanese, told the US-financed Iraqiya television station.

 

"I was paid $50 for each beheading even though I'd been promised a lot more."

 

Musa's "confession" came in one of three programmes this week in which men detained by security forces were brought forward one by one to tell a police interviewer of their alleged crimes.

 

The programmes are part of the Iraqi interim government's effort to stop an uprising that has left thousands dead since the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in March 2003.

 

Syrian denial

 

"Syria cares a lot about the security and the stability of Iraq and does not interfere in its internal affairs"

Syrian security official

There was no way to verify the statements or the identities the men gave, and the Syrian government has denied the claims.

 

"These reports are false and without basis," a Syrian security official quoted by the state Sana news agency said.

 

"Syria cares a lot about the security and the stability of Iraq and does not interfere in its internal affairs," the official said.

 

The men said they were part of a group that calls itself Jaish al-Tahrir, or the Army of Liberation, which they said was trained in a town on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

 

"I was trained by a Syrian intelligence officer called Abu Bakr," Adam Dum Umar, 41, a Sudanese who was presented as the leader of the group, said.

 

Specialised cell

 

"The cell that I ran was made up of Sudanese and Egyptians split into two groups, one of which specialises in beheadings and the other in planting bombs," Umar said.

 

Sudanese Muhammad Musa said
he got $50 for each beheading

The United States, as well as the Iraqi interim administration, has frequently accused Syria of involvement in Iraqi resistance to the occupation.

 

The men's statements suggested they were active in the Mosul region, which is close to the Syrian border and where the decapitated bodies of dozens of police officers, soldiers and civilians have been found in recent months.

 

"I shot dead 10 people without knowing if they were Iraqis or Americans because they were hooded," Umar said.

 

The police officer who was interviewing him, whose face was not shown, said Umar had been living in Iraq for 15 years and that he had been arrested on 20 February.

 

Financial rewards

 

An Egyptian who gave his name as Muhammad Samir Muhammad Ramadan said that along with two other Egyptians he had "cut the throat of six Iraqi soldiers in a hotel".

 

"Our group abducted the six men and took them to the Our Hotel," he said calmly. "Each member of the group killed two soldiers. We helped each other by holding the soldiers down."

 

"We got $400 each," claimed Ramadan, 45, who said he has been living in Iraq for 24 years.

 

Egyptian national Ramadan said
he had killed six Iraqi soldiers

The two other men allegedly in the group who appeared in the programme said they could confirm Ramadan's version of events.

 

Among the Iraqis who appeared was a bearded hotelkeeper from Mosul who said he was named Kanan Ali Muhammad.

 

He said he had taken part in the abduction and beheading of eight police officers and six soldiers, as well as the abduction and rape of two Iraqi women.

 

Another Iraqi, 30-year-old Ammar Lahibi, said he was paid to videotape beheadings and that he received $200 for each one he filmed.

 

The police officer presiding over the events said he "deplored the actions of the Syrian intelligence services", accusing them of "recruiting Arabs living in Iraq to reopen the wounds of the country".

 

Reactions mixed

 

"It's simply another way for the Americans to put more pressure on Syria"

Khalid Ahmad, taxi driver in Iraq

Iraqis who watched the programmes had mixed reactions.

 

"This is irrefutable proof of the involvement of Syrians who do not want a stable Iraq so that they won't be the next target of the Americans," Jawad Haidar, a 26-year-old shopkeeper from Baghdad's Karrada district, said. 

 

But Khalid Ahmad, a 40-year-old taxi driver, had a different interpretation.

 

"It's simply another way for the Americans to put more pressure on Syria," he said, noting the "confessions" were broadcast after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, which has led to increased calls for Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon.