Free prisoners or American hostage dies, says al-Qa'ida

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United States and Saudi authorities in Riyadh are desperately trying to trace the kid-
napped American, Paul Johnson, after al-Qa'ida threatened to execute him by tomorrow night unless the government frees jailed militants

The captors of Paul Johnson, a US military contractor seized in Saudi Arabia last Saturday, have threatened to kill him by the end of the week unless the Saudi government agrees to release all suspected al-Qa'ida members in its custody.

In a video shot by the hostage-takers and widely aired yesterday, Mr Johnson was shown blindfolded, and his red shirt was open and torn to reveal a tattoo on his left shoulder.

"My name is Paul Marshal Johnson and I am a citizen of the United States. I work for Apache helicopters," he says on the tape, which was first posted on an Islamic website.

A statement from al-Qa'ida read: "If the tyrants in the Saudi government want to secure the release of the American hostage, they must release our mujahideen [Muslim warriors] held hostage in its jails. They have
72 hours from today [Tuesday] or else we will sacrifice him." Saudi security forces, anxious about assuring the safety of the country's economically indispensable expatriate community and dissuading them from leaving, have been scouring Riyadh in a frantic search for clues to Mr Johnson's whereabouts. On Tuesday, they claimed the arrest of two militants north of Riyadh. Yesterday, they surrounded a house in the south-western district of al-Badea amid intermittent gunfire. They was no immediate indication that the house was where Mr Johnson was being held and security officials on the spot refused to comment.