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Saudi leader of al-Qaeda ‘shot dead’ by security forces US Contractor Beheaded

June 19, 2004

Financial Times (London, England) USA Edition 2 – June 19, 2004 Saturday

by GUY DINMORE and MARK HUBAND

WASHINGTON and LONDON – Saudi security forces were reported last night to have shot dead al-Qaeda’s leader in the kingdom shortly after he and other militants had beheaded and disposed of Paul Johnson, an American defence contractor kidnapped in Riyadh a week ago.

The body of the 49-year-old Lockheed Martin engineer was found in Riyadh’s Malazz district, after pictures of his decapitated corpse were published on an Islamist website.

Dick Cheney, US vice-president, promised retaliation. “All Americans can be certain of President Bush’s resolve in this war. America will hunt down these killers, find them one by one and destroy them,” he said during an election campaign speech in Colorado. President George W. Bush said extremist thugs would be brought to justice.

Local television reported later that security forces had killed Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, the leading al-Qaeda militant in Saudi Arabia, and two others, apparently after they had dumped Mr Johnson’s body.

Mr Muqrin had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and beheading of Mr Johnson, as well as the killing of other westerners. Mr Muqrin fought in Bosnia’s civil war and was reported to have spent two years in prison in Ethiopia after being part of a group that tried to kill President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 1995.

The US issued a new alert to its citizens, warning it had received information that extremists might be planning further attacks against westerners and oil workers “in the Persian Gulf region, beyond Saudi Arabia”.

Mr Johnson, who worked on targeting and night vision programmes for Apache helicopters, was the third US defence contractor killed in Saudi Arabia this month, as extremists moved from indiscriminate car bombings to more targeted killings. An attack last month on a compound in the oil centre of Khobar killed 22 foreigners.

The website also carried a claim of responsibility from a group calling itself the Fallujah Squadron of the Organisation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula.

Mr Johnson’s captors had given a 72-hour deadline for the release of militants jailed for bombings in May 2003. The US and Saudi governments said they would not negotiate with terrorists.

Since April, the US State Department has repeatedly advised the American business community to leave the kingdom. The warning has irritated the Saudi government. Yesterday Adel al-Jubeir, an adviser to the royal family, told a Washington press conference that US calls to leave could play into the hands of the militants who wanted such an exodus.

About 30,000 Americans live in Saudi Arabia, including some 10,000 working in the oil industry and several thousand for the Saudi armed forces as military trainers and engineers.

As it was the holiday season and many US families were away, it was too early to tell how many had gone for good, said Don de Marino, chairman of the US-Arab Chamber of Commerce.

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