U.S. Hostage Johnson Beheaded
Friday, June 18, 2004
An al-Qaida group said Friday it killed American hostage Paul M. Johnson Jr., posting three photos on the Internet showing his body and severed head.
The message, in the name of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, appeared as a 72-hour deadline set by the group ended.
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Saudi security officials later said Johnson's body was found in al-Munisiyah district just outside the capital, Riyadh. Police cordoned off the area, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Washington, a U.S. official confirmed that Johnson had been beheaded. At the top of the list of suspects is Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin, the top al-Qaida figure in Saudi Arabia, said the official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
"In answer to what we promised ... to kill the hostage Paul Marshall (Johnson) after the period is over ... the infidel got his fair treatment," the al-Qaida statement said.
"Let him taste something of what Muslims have long tasted from Apache helicopter fire and missiles," the statement said.
Johnson, 49, who worked on Apache attack helicopter systems for Lockheed Martin, was kidnapped last weekend by militants who threatened to kill him by Friday if the kingdom did not release its al-Qaida prisoners. The Saudi government rejected the demands.
He was the latest victim of an escalating campaign targeting Westerners that Saudi and U.S. officials say aims to drive foreign workers from the kingdom and undermine the ruling royal family, hated by al-Qaida.
Al-Moqrin's group Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for most anti-Westerner attacks in the past two months.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said U.S. officials were awaiting confirmation of Johnson's death from Saudi officials. But he condemned the reported killing as "an action of barbarism ... that shows, once again, what the world is dealing with."
"If anything, it will cause us - I'm quite confident it will cause our Saudi colleagues - to redouble our efforts to go after terrorists wherever they are, wherever they try to hide," Powell said.
"The inhumanity of the crime exceeds all boundaries of civilized people," U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Oberwetter said in a statement. "There is a tremendous sadness on the part of the family, the U.S. Embassy, and the American community at Paul's death."
The Saudi ambassador to Britain called the slaying "an evil act by evil people."
"We will continue to use every effort to fight this murderous cult in Saudi Arabia," Prince Turki al-Faisal said in London.
Earlier, as the deadline approached, Saudi security forces launched an all-out search, going door-to-door in some Riyadh neighborhoods, as Johnson's wife went on Arab television Friday pleading for his release. But officials admitted they had few leads on the group that abducted him or where he was being held.
After Johnson's death was reported, his family was in seclusion at a town house in Galloway Township, N.J., where they have been holding a vigil. A man in front of the house identified himself only as "Bill" and said the family did not want to talk to reporters.
One of the three photographs posted on the Web site showed a man's head, face toward the camera, being held by a hand. The other two showed a beheaded body lying prone on a mattress, with the severed head placed in the small of his back, the clothes underneath bloodied.
The face looked like Johnson's.
The beheaded body was dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit, similar to one Johnson is seen wearing in earlier videos released by the kidnappers.
"To the Americans and whoever is their ally in the infidel and criminal world and their allies in the war against Islam, this action is punishment to them and a lesson for them to know that whoever steps foot in our country, this decisive action will be his fate," the al-Qaida statement said.
Soon after the statement appeared, the Web site was inaccessible, with a message saying it was closed for maintenance.
Johnson is the second American to be kidnapped and beheaded in the Middle East in just over a month.
American businessman, Nicholas Berg, was beheaded by his captors in Iraq, and his last moments later appeared on a videotape posted on an al-Qaida-linked Web site. His body was found on May 12. U.S. officials say al-Qaida-linked Muslim militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may have been Berg's killer.
Johnson was seized on June 12, the same day that Islamic militants shot and killed Kenneth Scroggs of Laconia, N.H., in his garage in Riyadh.
Scroggs worked for Advanced Electronics Co., a Saudi firm whose Web site lists Lockheed Martin among its customers. The office number on Johnson's business card was for Advanced Electronics.
The same week as Scroggs' death, militants shot and killed another American, Robert Jacobs, and an Irish citizen in Riyadh.
It appears that Jacobs was also decapitated after being shot to death. Video shows his attackers bent over his body, making a sawing motion near the head, though there was no confirmation.
A spokesman for Lockheed Martin Corp. said the company had "no official notification on the status of Paul Johnson."
"But obviously we hope that the media reports people are seeing are not true," spokesman Jeff Adams said from the Bethesda, Md. headquarters.
A message posted on the defense contractor's Web site reads "Our thoughts and prayers are with Paul M. Johnson Jr. and his family," but a notation on the message refers to it as "Employee Kidnapped."
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