On September 18, the Tawhid and Jihad ("Oneness of God and Jihad") Islamist group, led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, released a video of the three men kneeling in front of a Tawhid and Jihad banner. The kidnappers said they would kill the men within 48 hours if their demands for the release of Iraqi women prisoners held by coalition forces were not met.
Armstrong was beheaded on September 20 when the deadline expired, Hensley 24 hours later, and Bigley over two weeks later, despite the intervention of the Muslim Council of Britain and the indirect intervention of the British government. Videos of the killings were posted on Islamist websites. Using voice-recognition technology, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has claimed that al-Zarqawi personally carried out the beheading of Armstrong.
After Bigley's death, it was claimed that the British Secret Intelligence Service (commonly known as MI6) had launched a rescue operation that had allowed Bigley to escape for a brief period, but he was recaptured at a roadblock, taken back to the Tawhid and Jihad safehouse, and beheaded shortly afterwards.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Prime Minister Tony Blair personally contacted the Bigley family several times to assure them that everything possible was being done, short of direct negotiation with the kidnappers. It was also reported that a Special Air Service (SAS) team had been placed on standby in Iraq in the event that a rescue mission might become possible.
The British government issued a statement saying it held no Iraqi women prisoners, and that the only two women known to be in U.S. custody were two so-called high-profile Iraqi scientists, British-educated Dr. Rihab Taha and U.S.-educated Dr. Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash. Both women participated in Iraq's biological-weapons program, according to the United Nations weapons inspectorate. News reports had earlier suggested that other Iraqi women were indeed being held in U.S. custody, but it is not known to what extent these reports were out-of-date by the time of Bigley's kidnap.
The Iraqi provisional government stated that Dr. Taha and Dr. Ammash could be released immediately, stressing that this was about to happen anyway, as no charges had been brought against the women.
Around this time it emerged that Bigley's mother, Lil, 86 years old at the time of his abduction, had been born in Dublin and was therefore an Irish citizen; this meant Bigley himself was also an Irish citizen from birth. It was hoped this status would aid his release, as Ireland did not participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Irish Government issued Bigley an Irish passport in absentia, which was shown on al-Jazeera television. Irish Labour Party spokesman on foreign affairs Michael D. Higgins made an appeal on al-Jazeera. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams made two appeals, one on September 30 and a second on October 7.
On September 24, 50,000 leaflets prepared by the British Foreign Office, asking for information about Bigley's whereabouts, were distributed in al-Mansour, the wealthy district of Baghdad Bigley had been living in. In his home city of Liverpool, Christian and Muslim religious and civic leaders held joint prayer sessions for his safe return.
The Muslim Council of Britain condemned the kidnapping, saying it was contrary to the teachings of the Qur'an and sent a senior two-man delegation to Iraq to negotiate on Bigley's behalf. Bigley's family, particularly his brother Paul, was successful, with the help of the Irish government, in eliciting support for Bigley's release from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Colonel Gadaffi of Libya, who made public statements.
A third video was released on September 29 showing Bigley chained inside a small chicken-wire cage, wearing an orange boiler suit apparently intended to be reminiscent of those worn by inmates at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay. In the video, Bigley again begged for his life, saying, "Tony Blair is lying. He doesn't care about me. I'm just one person."
On October 1, another 100,000 leaflets asking for information about Bigley were distributed by the British Foreign Office in Baghdad.
The kidnappers made a film apparently showing Bigley's killing, and the tape was subsequently posted on Islamist websites and on one "shock" site. According to reporters who watched the film, Bigley was wearing an orange jumpsuit, and read out a statement, before one of the kidnappers stepped forward and cut off his head with a knife.
News reports published after Bigley's death suggested he had briefly managed to escape from the kidnappers with the help of two MI6 agents of Syrian and Iraqi origin, who paid two of his captors to help him. The captors attempted to drive Bigley, who was carrying a gun and was disguised, out of town, the reports said, but he was spotted and recaptured at an insurgent checkpoint. The two captors were said to have been beheaded.
After his death, the British media were criticized for the amount of news coverage his situation had been given. The same high-coverage news strategy was notably absent in the case of Margaret Hassan, the Irish-born aid worker, who held Irish, British and Iraqi citizenship, who was kidnapped on October 19 2004 and killed two weeks later.
The sometimes controversial columnist Mark Steyn had his column pulled from the British Daily Telegraph on October 11, 2004 when in it he stated that Bigley's last words "Tony Blair has not done enough for me" would not be high up on his list of final utterances.
TERRORVISION Video footage of Ken Bigley pleading for his life - and the executions that followed - brought home the full horror of post- invasion Iraq
Dec 26, 2004; THE end, when it came, was captured in a sickening four-minute video. A new theatre of the macabre for the internet generation....