The group, which calls itself Fallujah Brigade of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, beheaded Johnson after the Saudi government did not respond to a demand to free jailed al-Qaida members. News of his murder came shortly after the group’s 72-hour deadline had expired.
According to the Associated Press, the group posted a statement on an extremist Web site saying, “In answer to what we promised … to kill the hostage Paul Marshall (Johnson) after the period is over … the infidel got his fair treatment”.
“This is so that he can taste what Muslims have suffered from Apache planes and their rockets. The slain American parasite was working on their maintenance and developing their systems in Saudi Arabia,” the statement said.
The group also reportedly posted photographs of Johnson’s body and severed head. Saudi security officials later said they had found the body in a district called al-Munisiyah, just outside Riyadh.
Just after the 49-year-old’s body was discovered, Arab satellite station al-Arabiya reported that Saudi security forces had killed three militants. The three were killed in Riyadh, but it was not immediately clear whether they had been involved in the Johnson killing.
Adel al-Jubeir, foreign affairs adviser to the Saudi crown prince, told reporters that those men might have been involved in Johnson’s death, but that it was too soon to know. Al-Jubeir confirmed that a number of militants had been killed.
“Once it is over we will have a better picture,” he said.
Later Friday, al-Arabiya television reported that one of those killed was Abdulaziz al-Moqrin, a senior al-Qaida leader in Saudi Arabia who had appeared in a video with Johnson during his captivity.
Al-Jubeir said the Saudis deployed over 15,000 security personnel in the search for Johnson. He vowed to find and punish those responsible.
“We will leave no stone unturned to confront this evil and destroy it,” he said.
Johnson, whose company works on Apache helicopter gunships, had lived in Saudi Arabia for the last 10 years. He is the third American killed in Riyadh in 10 days, in what appears to be a campaign to force Americans and other foreigners out of the kingdom. Two other Americans and an Irish television cameraman were shot dead in the Saudi capital this month.
The U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia denounced Johnson’s murder, calling it an “inhumane crime” and urging the Saudi government to find the killers.
“The inhumanity of the crime exceeds all boundaries of civilized peoples,” Ambassador James Oberwetter said in a statement.
“We urge the government of Saudi Arabia to continue its efforts to bring Paul Johnson’s murderers to account, as well as those who have carried out other terrorist crimes in the kingdom,” he said.
President Bush also condemned the murder, saying, “America will not be intimidated by these kinds of extremist thugs.”