Family of man held by militants in TV appeal

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The Independent US

The family of Paul Johnson, the 49-year-old defence contractor taken hostage in Saudi Arabia last weekend, issued an impassioned plea for his life last night, 24 hours before the deadline by which his captors have said they will "sacrifice" him.

His sister Donna Mayeux begged in a tearful interview on CNN: "Just please don't murder him. He's an innocent man. Killing him is not going to solve anything."

With the Saudi authorities refusing to bow to the kidnappers' demands that they release all al-Qa'ida militants in their custody, the outlook for Mr Johnson is not good, however.

In Washington, the two senators representing Mr Johnson's home state, New Jersey, met Saudi Arabia's leading foreign policy adviser on Wednesday, but came away with little cause for optimism. "They [the Saudis] are at a loss," Senator Frank Lautenberg told reporters. "He says they're using every resource that they have to try to free him. Right now, the prospects are gloomy."

Mr Johnson has worked overseas for Lockheed Martin for more than a decade and was working on an Apache helicopter deal with the Saudi government when he was snatched off a Riyadh street on Saturday. On Tuesday, his captors released a video showing him blindfolded and in a torn red shirt revealing a tattoo on his left shoulder, which confirmed his identity.

His family, which is spread between New Jersey and Florida, said that Mr Johnson had nothing but respect for Saudi and Muslim culture. His son, Paul Johnson III, appeared on CNN and held up the three-year-old grandson that Mr Johnson has never met.