Nick Berg grew up in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. He was referred to as a “religious Jew.” Berg graduated from Henderson High School in West Chester in 1996. In 1996, he was a student at Cornell University but later dropped out. He took classes at Drexel University in 1998, and in 1999, Berg attended summer sessions on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. At some point, Berg took a class at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. He never earned a college degree. In 2002, with family members, Berg created Prometheus Methods Tower Service. 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. Nick Berg first arrived in Iraq on 21 December 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 1 February 2004, he returned to Iraq on 14 March 2004, only to find that the work he was promised was unavailable. Throughout his time in Iraq, he maintained frequent contact with his family in the United States by telephone and e-mail.
Nick Berg had intended to return to the United States on 30 March 2004, but he was detained in Mosul on March 24. His family claims that he was turned over to U.S. officials and held for 13 days without access to legal counsel. FBI agents visited his parents to confirm his identity on March 31, 2004, but he was not immediately released. 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.” 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. Nick 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. Moore chose not to use the footage of his interview with Berg, but instead shared it with Berg’s family following his death.
Nick 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. Berg’s 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. 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 group Muntada al-Ansar posted a video with the opening title of “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughters an American” (Arabic: ابو مصعب الزرقاوي يذبح امريكي), which shows Berg being decapitated. The video is about five and a half minutes long. Nick Berg is seen in the video wearing an orange jumpsuit, similar to ones worn by prisoners in U.S. custody. He identifies himself: “My name is Nick Berg, my father’s name is Michael, my mother’s name is Susan. I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in West Chester, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.”
The video shows Nick Berg surrounded by five men wearing ski masks and shemaghs. 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 decapitator was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A scream can be heard as 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 man reading the statement threatens further deaths: “We tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins … slaughtered in this way.” The video further threatens U.S. President George W. Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
- April, 02, 1978
- West Chester, Pennsylvania
- May, 07, 2004
- Baghdad, Iraq
Cause of Death
- Montefiore Cemetery
- Jenkintown, Pennsylvania