Al-Qa'ida threatens to kill US hostage in Saudi

An Islamic website screened a videotape of an American hostage in Saudi Arabia, saying he would be killed unless the Saudi government freed all its al-Qa'ida detainees by Friday night.

An Islamic website screened a videotape of an American hostage in Saudi Arabia, saying he would be killed unless the Saudi government freed all its al-Qa'ida detainees by Friday night.

Paul Johnson, 49, of Stafford Township, New Jersey, was abducted last Saturday by a group calling itself al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula. The organisation is believed to be run by al-Qa'ida's chief in the kingdom, Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin, who was identified as speaking on the tape that appeared on the website late yesterday.

"My name is Paul Marshall Johnson, Jr," the blindfolded hostage says in the tape, his head in profile and an elaborate tattoo on his left shoulder. "I am an American. ... I work on Apache helicopters."

The tape, which was first aired by CNN, displayed Johnson's identification card for Lockheed Martin, the major US defence corporation that employs him.

A US official said the threat should be taken "very seriously" because the posting appeared credible and militants had used the site before. "It has been a good indicator in the past," the official said in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Saudi Arabia's ruling crown prince warned Islamic militants yesterday that the kingdom planned to deploy more security forces than they had ever faced before.

"Be assured that the kingdom has enough men whom you haven't seen so far, but within the coming few days you will see them," Crown Prince Abdullah told the militants, whose attacks have increased during the past three months. His remarks were televised.

The internet tape also showed a man in a black hood reading a statement and holding an AK-47 rifle. As he read, a subtitle identified him as al-Moqrin.

His words were similar to a printed statement on the website issued in the name of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula. The statement said the holy warriors of the Arabian peninsula's Fallujah Brigade have "hit" the engineering team that "oversees the development of the American Apache helicopter that attacks Muslims in Palestine and Afghanistan."

"The Fallujah Brigade has killed the director of this team and kidnapped one of its engineers, Paul Johnson, and if the tyrannical Saudi government wants their American master to be released, then they have to release our holy warriors that are held in Ha'ir, Ruweis and Alisha prisons within 72 hours of this statement's date or else we will sacrifice his blood to God in revenge for our Muslim brothers who have been liberally killed everywhere," the statement said.

In the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, foreign affairs adviser to the Saudi government, told The Associated Press that the kingdom was trying to determine the authenticity of the tape and would consult with the US government about how to continue.

Al-Jubeir also said the current situation with the Islamic militants was not a crisis but a serious issue that the Saudi kingdom will be dealing with for some time.

"Their strategy is to try to sow fear in people's hearts, and to panic, and to cause an exodus of foreign workers from Saudi Arabia, in particular Westerners," he said.

The militants previously threatened to treat Johnson as US troops had treated Iraqi detainees, a reference to the abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

The day Johnson was seized, Islamic militants shot dead another American, Kenneth Scroggs, from Laconia, New Hampshire, in his garage. Scroggs was the third Westerner killed in a week. An Irish BBC cameraman was shot dead in the street on June 6 and another American was killed in his garage on June 8.

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