DOHA - Arabic-language satellite television Al-Jazeera said Thursday that three Turkish hostages held by an Islamist group in Iraq had been killed, saying it had received a video of the execution.
Police and medical officers in Iraq said that three Turkish drivers were found shot dead on the roadside outside the rebel den of Samarra north of Baghdad.
In Ankara, a Turkish official said the Al-Jazeera report "seems credible," but it was not clear if the bodies in Samarra were the those of the slain hostages.
Al-Jazeera said the kidnappers, members of the Tawhid wal Jihad group linked to alleged Al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, had threatened in a statement to kill foreigners in Iraq and warned: "The time for mercy is over."
The television showed a photo of the three Turks seated and holding identity cards, flanked by three armed and masked men.
News of the execution came after an overnight US air strike on a suspected Zarqawi hideout in the Iraqi rebel stronghold of Fallujah which killed 20 people.
A resident of Jalsyia, 11 kilometres (seven miles) outside Samarra, discovered the bodies of the three men late Wednesday, Police Colonel Fahran Mohammed told AFP.
They had been executed two days earlier, with bullet wounds to the head and stomach, a local doctor said.
Identification papers were found on two of the dead men, identifying them as Yahya Sadr, 53, and Majid Mehmet al-Gilami, 42.
Zarqawi, who has a 25-million dollar bounty on his head, runs Tawhid wal Jihad (Unity and Holy War), an extremist Sunni Muslim Islamic faction with links to Al-Qaeda.
US military officials believe Tawhid al-Jihad has picked up members from Iraqi fundamentalist factions Ansar al-Islam and Ansar al-Sunna over the last year and has firm ties with two of Iraq's militant Islamic factions.