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Saudis: Hostage's slayers die in shootout
Updated: 2004-06-19 23:53

Saudi TV broadcast pictures Saturday of four bloodied bodies that authorities identified as the reputed leader of al-Qaida in the kingdom and three other militants killed in a gunbattle after dumping the mutilated body of an American hostage.

The al-Qaida cell allegedly led by Abdulaziz al-Moqrin fulfilled its threat to kill engineer Paul M. Johnson Jr., beheading him and showing grisly photos on the Internet on Friday. The slaying drew a chorus of condemnation from around the world, with even one of America's staunchest foes, Syria, calling it a "shameful crime."

The death of al-Moqrin, 31, would be a coup for Saudi Arabia's government, which has been beset by a wave of attacks on Westerners that has unsettled citizens and foreign residents.

The airing of the pictures appeared to be a rebuttal to a posting on an Islamist Web site Saturday denying al-Moqrin had been killed and saying the claim was "aimed at dissuading the holy warriors and crushing their spirits."

On state-run national television, a Saudi announced said four men killed by police after being cornered at a Riyadh gas station included al-Moqrin, the kingdom's most-wanted terror suspect.

A picture showed the face of an apparently dead young man, clean-shaven except for his mustache and resembling past pictures believed to be of al-Moqrin. Al-Ekhbariya, an all-news Saudi satellite channel, showed a full photograph of the same corpse, covered with blood.

A trickle of blood ran from the mouth of another of the militants pictured, and the teeth of a third appeared smashed.

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity Friday had confirmed al-Moqrin's killing, while a Saudi official said forensic tests would confirm its identity.

Johnson was the latest victim of an escalating campaign of violence against Westerners that is aimed at driving foreign workers from the kingdom and undermining the ruling royal family. Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida's leader, was stripped of his Saudi citizenship more than a decade ago after becoming increasingly critical of the monarchy.

Johnson's severed head was shown on a Web site Friday after his wife went on Arab television and tearfully pleaded for his release.

After news of Johnson's death was released Friday, a witness reportedly saw his body dumped from a car just outside Riyadh and informed police of the car's license number.

Police were said to have stopped the car at a gas station in Riyadh's al-Malaz neighborhood and a fierce gunbattle erupted, during which the four militants died. Al-Ekhbariya broadcast footage of the station showing blood on the street and on merchandise inside.

"Security forces managed last night in confrontations with a group of terrorists to kill four of them, the top being Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin, who claims to be the leader of the gang that condemns people as infidels," the state-run TV announcer said, reading from a statement attributed to the Interior Ministry.

The official Saudi Press Agency carried a similar statement. It identified the three other militants killed as Faisal Abdul-Rahman al-Dikheel, Turki bin Fuheid al-Muteiry and Ibrahim bin Abdullah al-Dreiham.

According to the SPA statement, al-Dikheel, also on the kingdom's list of the 26 most-wanted militants, was involved in a number of killings and apparently was featured in video footage of Johnson's killing. It said Al-Muteiry was among the militants involved in a May 29 attack in the oil hub of Khobar that killed 22 people. Al-Dreiham was linked to the Nov. 8 suicide bombing at Riyadh housing compounds that killed 17.

SPA said one security officer was killed in the Friday gunbattle and two were wounded. Earlier, Saudi officials in Washington said on condition of anonymity that five security officers died. Two suspects escaped, according to a Saudi security official who participated.

Al-Moqrin was believed to be behind numerous attacks on foreigners in the kingdom, including the kidnapping and beheading of Johnson, an employee of the U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Saudi newspapers on Saturday denounced Johnson's killers and hailed the efforts of Saudi security forces. The daily Al-Riyadh quoted al-Moqrin's father as saying he didn't know what had happened to his son, but "he has gone to his destiny." The father, Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin, repeatedly had called on his son through the Saudi media to turn himself in.

The Interior Ministry statement said authorities had confiscated three cars used by al-Moqrin's cell, including one believed to have been used in the June 6 killing of Irish cameraman Simon Cumbers. A British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent, Frank Gardner of Britain, was seriously wounded in that attack.

Forged identity papers and a large amount of weapons also were confiscated, including three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, hand grenades and automatic rifles, the statement said.

Saudi authorities also confiscated 132,000 Saudi riyals ($35,200) plus $2,900 in U.S. currency, the statement said.

Johnson, 49, who had worked in Saudi Arabia for more than a decade, was kidnapped last weekend by militants who threatened to kill him by Friday if the kingdom did not release its al-Qaida prisoners. The Saudi government rejected the demands.

One of three photographs posted on the Web on Friday showed Johnson's head, face toward the camera, being held by a hand. Two other pictures showed a body lying on a bed with the head placed in the small of the back. The body was in a bright orange jumpsuit, similar to one Johnson was seen wearing in earlier videos released by the kidnappers.

A statement, in the name of Fallujah Brigade of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, said that "the infidel got his fair treatment. ... Let him taste something of what Muslims have long tasted from Apache helicopter fire and missiles."

Johnson had worked on Apache helicopters for Lockheed Martin.

President Bush condemned the beheading and vowed that "America will not be intimidated by these kinds of extremist thugs." British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the killing "an act of barbarism." Condemnation also came from Arab governments and Islamic leaders in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation.

Ahmad Haj Ali, a Syrian Information Ministry official, called Johnson's killing "a shameful crime, which is alien to Arab and Muslim morals." In Jordan, King Abdullah II said on state-run Jordanian radio it was "scary and humiliating that this crime has been committed in the name of Islam."

Johnson was seized June 12, the same day that Islamic militants shot and killed Kenneth Scroggs of Laconia, N.H., in his garage in Riyadh. Earlier that week, militants shot and killed another American, Robert Jacobs of Murphysboro, Ill., and Cumbers in Riyadh.

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