Rusty’s got a link to the video posted today on Sadrist message boards. It’s 10 seconds long and there’s no sound, though, so the frontpage thumbnail’s just as good.

It’s also undated, but there’s reason to believe it was shot recently:

The previously unknown group identified themselves as the “Ahel al-Beit Brigades” in a message posted on a Web site for supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Medhi militia…

[Altaie’s uncle, Entifadh] Qanbar said the group that posted the video has been e-mailing him for some time and told the family they wanted to negotiate. When the family demanded the group show Altaie was still alive, they refused and halted communication. The last e-mail Qanbar said he received was January 27.

“We were looking for a proof of life. A proof of life was the condition for us to continue the dialogue with them. Now we have it,” he said.

Why they’d choose to extort Altaie’s family rather than reap the propaganda windfall of killing a U.S. soldier and Muslim apostate escapes me.

Moran’s got an interesting post this morning about whether Sadr really did fly the coop. One of his aides told the Times that he’s still in the country and will prove it by holding a press conference in a few days. That proves nothing about his present whereabouts, though; it can’t be hard for someone of his influence to come and go across the border. Moran also thinks Sadr’s departure might be a sign of a schism between himself and more radical rogue elements within the Mahdi Army — a development he calls “troubling” and which I call grrrrreat. Let the fanatics come out and fight. That’s exactly what we want.

Rick and I do agree, though, that Captain Ed’s probably wrong about Sadr having destroyed his credibility as a jihadi with Shiites. He laid down his arms against the Americans a few years ago and joined the government and still they stuck by him. If the reports are true about the Mahdi Army fanning out from Baghdad across the country, their influence, and his, will still be felt. Besides, there’s a long history of leaders going into exile and then returning to claim power. DeGaulle is one obvious example. Khomeini is another (and more apt).

And now, having said all that, I’m going to make you click here and consider Maliki’s possible culpability in all this. As I noted yesterday, we’ve heard this particular allegation before.

Update: Hmmm.

More (Bryan): For what it’s worth, al-Sadr’s move looks more like a strategic redeployment of his keister rather than an actual tail-between-the-legs flight for his life. You can add to Allah’s list of exiled terrorist leaders whose credibility never suffered for it, Yasser Arafat. And to the list of jihadi leaders who have a habit of hiding, Hassan Nesrallah and Osama bin Laden (assuming the latter is still breathing). Those guys never suffered any credibility hits for hiding out, even for donning women’s clothing to get away from US forces. Exile just seems to make these terrorists’ legends grow stronger. Clever deception is a highly regarded trait in Arab and Islamic culture. (I’m sure that last line earned me a couple of vicious rants from Dean Esmay, but go read The Arabian Nights and pay close attention to which characters are esteemed, and how they earn it. That’s just one example, but it’s a pretty good one that goes back a long way.)

I’ll side with Allah on the benefit of a fractious JAM, too. JAM has never been the united, monolithic force that the media makes out. It’s always been prone to schism. If Sadr is losing control, then one of two things may be happening. Either the so-called “good JAM”–the non-ideologues inside the militia–are becoming fed up with life on the run and genuinely fear the surge, or the “bad JAM” ideologues and death squads are becoming impatient with Sadr’s leadership, and also fear the surge. Either way, Sadr could be weakening on the ground no matter where he happens to be, and we have divisions within JAM to exploit. If we can find ways to work a little mutual distrust in between the factions, we may be able to divide and destroy them. It’s hard to see that as a bad thing.