Saudis Find Head of American Hostage

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Saudis Find Head of American Who Was Held by Militants
By CHRISTINE HAUSER

Published: July 21, 2004


Security forces in Saudi Arabia have found the head of an American man who was kidnapped and held hostage by militants in the kingdom last month and then decapitated, the Saudi interior ministry said in a statement today.

The head of the hostage, Paul M. Johnson, Jr., was discovered in a freezer when the forces conducted a raid overnight on a house in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, during a hunt for militants, the statement said. Two militants were killed and three were wounded in a gunfight with the Saudi forces, it said. Missiles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were also found.

The spokeswoman for the United States Embassy in Riyadh, Carol Kalin, said that Saudi authorities had informed the embassy of the discovery and that consular officials in Washington were in the process of notifying Mr. Johnson's family, The Associated Press reported.

The Saudi statement said that the rest of Mr. Johnson's corpse had not yet been found.

The search for Mr. Johnson's remains was launched after his beheading last month by his captors, who had set a deadline for the authorities to free Islamist prisoners. Detailed pictures of the killing were posted on the Internet.

The group that claimed responsibility for his killing called itself Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Mr. Johnson was an Apache helicopter engineer employed by Lockheed Martin. A statement about Mr. Johnson and a colleague killed the same day he was abducted said they were singled out because they worked on Apache helicopters, vilified in the Arab world because they are used by Israelis against Palestinians and by American forces against Iraqis.

The interior ministry statement also said today that the wife and children of Saleh al-Awfi, one of Saudi Arabia's most wanted terrorists, were being held after the raid.

Mr. Awfi is a former Saudi prison guard and one of 26 men on Saudi Arabia's most wanted list, issued last year. He had been named on an Islamist Web site last month as the chosen successor to Abdelaziz al-Muqrin, who was the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula until being shot dead by security forces with three other senior militants after Mr. Johnson's beheading.

Western diplomats and Saudi analysts had feared the four might have been the only people who had known the location of the body.
 
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