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Reaction to Murder of Paul Johnson Jr.

Aired June 18, 2004 - 16:01   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We want to let you know that we are expecting Vice President Dick Cheney to have something to say this hour about the beheading of the American hostage, Paul Johnson, in Saudi Arabia. It is, of course, the subject of CNN's ongoing breaking news coverage. Saudi security officials are saying the body of Lockheed Martin employee Paul Johnson Jr., has been found in Riyadh, nearly one week after he was kidnapped by al Qaeda militants.
They threatened to kill Johnson unless Johnson -- rather, unless the Saudi government released al Qaeda prisoners and Westerners left the Arabian Peninsula. News of the killing broke when an Islamist Web site posted photographs appearing to show Johnson's severed head and body. Again, that's what we were just hearing from the al-Arabiya correspondent. Here now is some of what Secretary of State Colin Powell had to say before there was word that Johnson's body had been found.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, we've heard these reports. I don't know yet if they have been confirmed by Saudi authorities, but we are in touch with Saudi authorities and if these reports are true about Mr. Johnson, we, of course, totally condemn this action. It's an action of barbarism, an action that shows, once again , what the world is dealing with with these kinds of individuals who behead somebody or murder somebody in cold blood, an innocent individual who was just trying to help people and trying to do his job.

And, if anything, it will cause us -- I'm quite confident it will cause our Saudi colleagues to redouble our efforts to go after terrorists, wherever they are, wherever they are trying to hide and to go after those who support this kind of terrorist (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and so waiting to hear more from Saudi Arabia. Our thoughts are with Mr. Johnson's family. They have showed a great deal of courage during this trying time, this difficult time for them and my thoughts are with them. Our thoughts are with them and we're waiting to get the final confirmation. Thank you.


WOODRUFF: Secretary of State Colin Powell talking to reporters outside of the state department just a short time ago. We also want to tell you that a senior state department official is urging U.S. citizens actually, repeating a warning to U.S. citizens but telling them to leave Saudi Arabia, warning that further attacks against Americans there are likely. We want to turn to our Debbie Feyerick who has been with the family of Paul Johnson. Debbie, I know it has been a very, very difficult -- it doesn't do justice to what they've been through and now today, the horrible end.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Judy. In about an hour before the word came down, we spoke to the daughter of Paul Johnson. At that time, she said that she and the whole family were devastated. About an hour later, the news broke. The family right now staying together. They are in seclusion at a home and they are trying to maintain their privacy as they wrestle with this.

Initially when it happened, the sister told me that they were all in shock, simply numb from this experience. Paul Johnson never believing for a moment that he was ever in any danger working and living in Riyadh. The family right now deciding whether, in fact, they will make a statement. They are waiting about five to six hours for confirmation that the body found in eastern Riyadh is in fact the body of Paul Johnson Jr. Now Lockheed Martin has been with the family the entire time. They have provided representatives, they have provided counselors.

We are told they issued a statement today that says, "we are very distressed, very disheartened and we are dealing about with the family." Now a hostage negotiator that I spoke to earlier today said that the kidnappers' demands, in his words, "it was an impossible request and an impossible time frame" and the negotiator said when you deal with extremist religious zealots, they play from a very different set of rules that, based on all the information that was out there, based on other things that the kidnappers had taken responsibility for, that they never had any intention of ever releasing Paul Johnson. Right now, the family grieving, trying to deal with this. Their whole life has been turned upside down and they are simply trying to cope with this devastating news -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Deborah, I know you've been asked this -- a version of this before. When they say that Paul Johnson never believed that he was in danger, at the same time, they knew that the unrest on the Saudi Peninsula had been growing not just for the last weeks or months, but for years it has been building in that part of the world.

FEYERICK: Absolutely. And that was one of the questions that I asked both his sister and his son. Whether, in fact, over the last couple of weeks or months he had been looking over his shoulder and they said no, that he simply had a really keen sense of safety being in that country. He had worked and lived there for more than a decade. His wife was there. As a matter of fact, he chose not to live within the compound that is there, choosing instead to live outside. He had made many Muslim friends and felt safe. One of his Muslim colleagues actually contacted one of the Islamist militant Web sites and the television station there urging the kidnappers to release him, even saying, I have given him my protection as a Muslim. Obviously, nothing happened with those pleas. Even the Saudi clerics came out urging the kidnappers to let Paul Johnson go -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Deborah, is the family, do they have enough support right now in terms of friends, neighbors, family to be there with them?

FEYERICK: Boy, they really do. You know, once the news came out immediately, friends and neighbors went to the place where they were staying just to try to show sport... Go ahead, Judy.

WOODRUFF: I'm going to have to interrupt you and go to Vice President Cheney who is speaking in Englewood, Colorado.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This horrendous act shows, once again, the nature of the enemy that we're facing in the war on terror. They have no shame, not a shred of decency and no mercy even for the innocent. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mr. Paul Johnson this afternoon, a good man, a fellow citizen, who may well have been murdered today. All Americans can be certain of President Bush's resolve in this war, America will hunt down these killers, find them one-by-one and destroy them.


Colorado is a proud enterprising state where people value their independence, put their hearts into their work and have a confident outlook on the future. I see that in the optimistic spirit right here at...

WOODRUFF: Vice President Dick Cheney at a previously scheduled trip to Englewood, Colorado, a campaign trip actually, but, among other things, he said our thoughts are with the family of Paul Johnson. He said a decent man who may have been murdered today. All of the evidence certainly points in that direction. A body has been found. It has not been yet identified. I also want to read a statement we've just been given, made by President Bush also on a campaign trip. He is in Washington state, in Seattle, Washington.

The president gave his deepest sympathies and prayers to the families. We're told he said, quote, "the murder of Paul shows the true nature of the enemy we face." The president said, "there is no justification for this act. They killed him in cold blood." He said. "We must pursue these people and bring them to justice before they hurt other Americans. They are trying to get us to retreat. We will not be intimidated. God bless Paul Johnson." The words of President George W. Bush campaigning in Seattle, Washington commenting. As we just heard vice president Cheney comment on the murder of this American today in Saudi Arabia.

Let's go quickly back to our Deborah Feyerick who has been covering the family, talking to family members. Debbie, I was just asking you about the support that the family has. Who is with family, friends and neighbors and so on?

FEYERICK: Well, Judy, we can tell you that the moment word broke that Paul Johnson Jr. was dead, friends and neighbors from the area where the family is in seclusion came to the place and really just, they wanted to pay their respects, show their sympathy and be with this family in a difficult time.

Counselors from Lockheed Martin have been with the family virtually the entire time since Paul Johnson was abducted on Saturday. They've been providing whatever support they can give to these people. It is Johnson's sister, his mother.

Initially, the mother was being kept from all media reports. The family just wanted to shield her from some of the news. She, herself, is very sick and very frail. And in the words of Johnson's sister, all that the mother was told initially was that he was alive. So that's what we have so far -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Deborah Feyerick who has been with the family of Paul Johnson this week. In fact, had a very moving interview yesterday with Paul Johnson's daughter and son. And we met, in a very poignant moment, we met his grandson who was there with his son. The little boy had never met his grandfather -- and now we know he never will. Deborah Feyerick, thank you very much.

Now let's go back to Miles in Atlanta.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. And we're here with our senior editor for Arab affairs Octavia Nasr, Judy, who is spending a lot of time watching al Arabiya and Al-Jazeera. And let's just bring up the live feed right now. This is going across Al-Jazeera right now. And actually, a few moments ago there was an interchange between the anchor and the correspondent in Washington.

And it was interesting. You were just kind of translating in real time the questions. I thought the questions spoke very well about the -- well, the slant is the term that is used, the anti- American slant in this coverage. Go ahead and relate that for us.

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SENIOR EDITOR FOR ARAB AFFAIRS: And the tone. You know we always wonder about that tone. And that would have been a perfect example. It was, of course, Al-Jazeera is covering -- this is their main newscast of the day called al Hasad (ph). It's a wrap-up of the whole day. And this is, of course, the biggest story of the day.

They started in Saudi Arabia with an update and then to Washington. They were interviewing the correspondent of "The Intelligence Review," the White House correspondent of "The Intelligence Review." And the anchor asked the question and he asked with a lot of oomph, you know.

And he said what happened to the intelligence? What happened to the cooperation between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia? What happened to the satellite images? What happened to all these great things that you have available and the hostage was killed in this way they couldn't find him?

O'BRIEN: I mean I think it really is a stretch to try to blame U.S. failings for the beheading of a hostage. That is taking it far.

And this leads us to a perception here in the West -- and it's easy for us looking through the narrow prism of television to make an assumption that that tone that we just talked about is synonymous with support for al Qaeda and its methods. There is a subtle distinction here we need to talk about.

NASR: Yes, it is very subtle. And it's not so subtle in the Arab world. They see a huge distinction between the two having. You know, being -- having an anti-American sentiment and supporting al Qaeda. These two are not even close when you talk to an Arab, for example.

But to us here, when we listen to this language and the rhetoric and the behavior sometimes and the demeanors at other times, we do get this impression.

There is a huge difference between the two. While the majority of the people -- of the Arab world feel a bit -- some animosity towards the American foreign policy, I have to stress, not the American people. And the way we can tell that is by watching Arab media, reading Arab media, talking to Arabs on the street.

And you get this impression that they do have a lot of anger towards American foreign policy. Not the people themselves.

So then this anger is translated into the kind of language that you're talking about. You hear it and you say, why do they hate us? What's wrong with us? And the Arabs do have the problem of not distinguishing between Americans themselves and the U.S. government, for example.

Just like a lot of Americans have this problem of distinguishing between those that support al Qaeda and those that just don't like the way Americans do foreign business.

O'BRIEN: Octavia, we are expecting to hear shortly from the president of the United States. We believe it's on tape. I don't know where to look for it right now. If they could tell me in the control room where to look for it. If you could -- so I may interrupt you.

But if you could help us understand then where is treat the street on this. Are they horrified by what they see here? Or is there sort of this sense perhaps this is what the U.S. deserves given it's policies?

NASR: The majority of the street is horrified, I can tell you that. We were looking for any reaction to the hostage taking and the possible killing of the hostage earlier in the week. It was hard to find it. You could only find it on extremist Web sites. You could not find it in mainstream media, mainstream Web sites.

People are really horrified. Today, earlier today on Arab networks, you heard from imams and shaikhs all over the Arab world denouncing this new tactic of the terrorists. They're even calling them terrorists, they're calling them fanatics. This a big switch in the Arab street. Definitely a lot of outrage for what's going on.

You still have some voices. You know a minority that's saying, oh he deserves it, all Americans deserve this kind of fate and so forth. But this is a small minority really that doesn't speak for the masses.

O'BRIEN: All right, we got to be careful about making sweeping generalizations always in this business.

NASR: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Octavia Nasr, senior editor for Arab affairs, appreciate your insights.

NASR: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Judy.

WOODRUFF: We've just in the last few seconds found out we do have a tape of President Bush. We read you his statement moments ago. He is in Seattle, Washington today. Our Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House standing by at the same time. We're going to be able to show you the president's statement.

Before we hear from that, in just about one minute from now, Suzanne, tell us why the president is in Seattle, what he's doing there.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, he was in Fort Lewis, Washington. And that is where he was speaking before troops. Many of these soldiers who had seen the combat in the battlefields in Iraq who had just recently returned.

This really was a day for the president and his administration to highlight the successes in the war on terror, to show that the U.S. and Iraqis are resolved in bringing about democracy. As you know, that transfer of power will occur in less than two weeks from today.

Certainly this overshadows that. And some senior administration officials believe, of course, it really makes the case here when they talk about the danger of the terrorists, when they talk about the danger of the enemy. They say that this is something the president predicted. That there would be an increase in violence leading up to the days ahead in that transfer of power.

At the same time, however, senior administration officials also acknowledge that perhaps this does work against them, as people see these types of pictures, as they hear this horrific story, that perhaps they will lose some of that support for the war on terror. They'll think, well perhaps this just isn't worth it.

So the president clearly upset by this. He has expressed his deepest condolences. He felt the need to speak out on this day as he did with the beheading of Nicholas Berg.

But this is a White House that is set on showing its determination, its resolve. And they believe that they will convince the American people that ultimately they are doing the right thing.

WOODRUFF: Suzanne, we want to listen to the president. Thank you. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We send our prayers and sympathies to them during this very troubling time. The murder of Paul shows the evil nature of the enemy we face. These are barbaric people. There is no justification whatsoever for his murder. And, yet, they killed him in cold blood.

And it should remind us that -- that we must pursue these people and bring them to justice before they hurt other Americans. See, they're trying to intimidate America. They're trying to shake our will. They're trying to get us to retreat from the world.

America will not retreat. America will not be intimidated by these kinds of extremist thugs. May God bless Paul Johnson. Thank you.


WOODRUFF: That is a statement from President Bush just a short time ago. The president in Washington State. We are replaying his statement. Among other things he said, "these are barbaric people." He said, "The murder of Paul," meaning Paul Johnson, "shows the evil nature of the enemy we face." He said, "They are trying to get us to retreat. We will not."

Just moments earlier we heard from Vice President Dick Cheney who said America will find these terrorists. He said, "We will hunt them down one by one."

Paul Johnson. We're going to take a very short break. Our live coverage of this tragedy continues. We'll be right back.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it happened 2 1/2 hours ago and it was the family's fears finally realized, something that we sure were hoping would not happen and that is American hostage Paul Johnson, we got the word just about 2 1/2 hours ago that he had been killed by Islamic militants in Saudi Arabia. It was a threat that came forward by the group al-Fallujah Squadron, militant extremist group based in Saudi Arabia with affiliations to al Qaeda. As you know, his captors posted three chilling photographs of his body on Islamist website as proof that he had been beheaded. They said that they were going to kill Johnson if the Saudi government did not release al Qaeda prisoners. Well, we can report to you now that no al Qaeda prisoners were released and Paul Johnson, the American that was kidnapped on Saturday was beheaded.

O'BRIEN: CNN has confirmed Johnson's body was found Friday evening in eastern Riyadh. Reaction coming in from all over the world. Reaction, mostly outrage exceeds all boundaries of civilized people. Carol Kalin, the press attache for the U.S. embassy in Riyadh told us while she on the line with us, Paul Johnson, 49 years old, a man with many friends, many friends here in the West and many friends in Saudi Arabia having worked there for ten years at Lockheed Martin on the Apache helicopter project dead at the age of 49 and escalating violence against Americans in Saudi Arabia a real concern on this day. That's it for us here in Atlanta. I'm Miles O'Brien. We'll press on with Judy Woodruff in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Miles, and thank you, Kyra, very much for being part of our coverage for the last few hours. We've been hearing more details about the apparent death of Paul Johnson. So much of that information was coming to us from Saudi Arabia and now it appears U.S. officials are prepared to confirm it and let's turn very quickly to our national security correspondent, David Ensor. David, tell us what you've learned.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Judy, U.S. officials are saying that they can now confirm for certain that Paul Johnson has been murdered, has been beheaded by al Qaeda terrorists in Saudi Arabia. They say that the body shown in the photograph, a headless body with the head placed on top of the body. The photographs are good quality and they have been able to ascertain without any doubt that that is the body of Paul Johnson.

So that very sad news for starters. They're also giving some information about the man they most suspect of being the mastermind mind, if not the actual killer of Paul Johnson and he is Abu Hajir Alnajdi (ph), that's the name he uses. His real name is Abdel Aziz Al Muqrin. He's about 30 years old. He is a Saudi. He has been on Jihad, he's been to fight in Afghanistan, in Bosnia and he's also spent some time in East Africa and we believe was arrested at one point in Somalia. He's expert in bombmaking, considered very well connected in the terrorist world. He was in contact with Khalid Shaikh Mohamed back when Khalid Shaikh Mohamed was still out there and he's considered extremely dangerous -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: David, we also know that from Riyadh, Saudi authorities are saying that three suspects terrorists, three militants were killed by Saudi officials today. Is there any identification of those individuals?

ENSOR: Not at this stage from my sources, no. Although here at the state department, we're hearing and also from the Saudi embassy that a massive dragnet is out there. Thousands and thousands of apartments and buildings have been searched. It really is an all-out effort. So it's not surprising to hear that they've pulled in a few people -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, David Ensor reporting from the state department, you just heard him say that U.S. officials have now looked closely at the pictures of the beheaded American and they are confirming that it is, indeed, the body of Paul Johnson. Our coverage continues. We'll be right back.


WOODRUFF: U.S. officials have now confirmed the worst that the body of Paul Johnson has been identified in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The news started to come in a little over 2 hours ago. An al Qaeda group claiming responsibility for the murder, the beheading, of Paul Johnson Jr. They put three pictures on an Islamic Web site. They show the body, they show the severed head, U.S. officials have now had a chance to examine those pictures and they say those pictures are of a good quality and they indicate that it is indeed Paul Johnson.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has been with the family of Paul Johnson through the past days as -- after he was taken hostage. Deborah, tell us right now how the family is dealing with all this.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, about an hour before word even came down that Paul Johnson, Jr., was dead, someone from CNN was able to speak with Johnson's daughter and another relative and, at that time, they said that the whole family is just devastated by everything that has happened. About an hour later, they got word from the State Department that, in fact, Paul Johnson is dead.

The family right now staying together in seclusion in a home, in isolation right now. The family deciding whether or not to make a statement. They're waiting for official confirmation that the body found in eastern Riyadh, an eastern part of the city is, in fact, that of Johnson.

Lockheed Martin did issue a statement earlier. They said, we're very distressed, very disheartened and are dealing with the family. As for other employees there, Lockheed Martin said, we are not going to talk about specific security measures. Security is paramount to this company and we will do anything we can to ensure the safety of our employees.

Paul Johnson, we are told, chose to live outside of the compound. In fact, he had been there for more than a decade living with his wife, a Thai woman, and he said he was comfortable there, never having to look over his shoulder, never worried about his safety. That's according to his sister.

We did speak to a hostage negotiator earlier today. The negotiator said the demands and the time frame in which they were made clearly indicated that these kidnappers never had any intention of releasing Johnson -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Deborah Feyerick, thank you very much, reporting on the family of Paul Johnson just in the hours after they learned of his death. What we don't know is whether they heard it first in the news media. I know that's one question that we are going to be asking.

President Bush today was in Washington State and just within the hour, he came out, spoke to reporters and had this comment on the murder of Paul Johnson.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to express my deepest condolences to the family of Paul Johnson. We send our prayers and sympathies to them during this very troubling time.

The murder of Paul shows the evil nature of the enemy we face. These are barbaric people. There is no justification whatsoever for his murder. And yet, they killed him in cold blood. And it should remind us that we must pursue these people and bring them to justice before they hurt other Americans.

See, they're trying to intimidate America. They're trying to shake our will. They're trying to get to us retreat from the world. America will not retreat. America will not be intimidated by these kinds of extremist thugs.

May God bless Paul Johnson. Thank you.


WOODRUFF: President Bush speaking to reporters just within the hour in Seattle, Washington, as he prepared to get on Air Force One to head back to Washington, D.C.

With me now, CNN's military intelligence analyst, Ken Robinson.

Ken, the president says we will not be intimidated, we will not retreat, but Americans are being asked to leave Saudi Arabia. How is that not intimidation?

KEN ROBINSON, CNN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, it's very effective intimidation. It's a very effective tactic on their part, but we should recognize what their strategy is. What we're seeing now is information warfare in the 21st Century. In the last hour and a half, we've had the senate majority leader, the vice president of the United States and the president come out and try to communicate a message to America and internationally to the world. Simultaneously, we've witnessed the messages from these terrorists verbatim as they communicated their message to Islam and the world, and there's a battle going on right now being waged.

WOODRUFF: When the vice president says, as he said in his own statement just a few moments ago, he was speaking in Englewood, Colorado. He said America is going to find these terrorists. We're going to hunt them down one-by-one. How realistic is that?

ROBINSON: There's not a lot of resources available to do that task, although there's a lot of national will. There are people that we're still trying to find from the '80s. Imad Mughniyah, who was the greatest Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist, who kidnapped and killed a CIA station chief, who kidnapped and killed Colonel Richard Higgins and others, we've still not been able to hunt him down and capture him, and the Saudis prevented us from doing that once.

WOODRUFF: Now, do you have any information -- we just heard our David Ensor, national security correspondent, after talking with his sources in the intelligence and the diplomatic community, say the man they most suspect of being responsible Abu -- I'm not going to contend that I may get this name wrong -- but I believe it was Abdel al- Muqrin. Is this a familiar name?

ROBINSON: Yes. He is a war fighter; he is a Jihadist. We started hearing about him after his training in the Afghan camps. He's Jihaded in Bosnia, in the former Bosnia-Herzegovina, he has been in Chechnya. He is a very aggressive up-starter, similar to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, who is in Iraq right now, who is a Jordanian. This is man is a Saudi, and this demonstrates Al Qaeda's power. It's the power of distributive network spread among 60 countries, and when they start activating cells, you get problems.

WOODRUFF: What do you mean, distributive network?

ROBINSON: When the United States invaded Afghanistan, they went east and they went west. They went into Iran; they went across borders and crossed up into Chechnya. They moved into waterfront areas, and they distributed their terrorists that they had trained to approximately 60 countries. And right now, those people are operating, many of them in a leaderless mode.

WOODRUFF: So how many more, before I let you go, Ken Robinson, how many more Abdel al-Muqrins are there out there?

ROBINSON: Untold. We don't know the number. That's the problem. The problem is, we can kill people, but we need to kill the idea. We must focus on killing the ideology that fuels these people. We must go after the disease, not the symptom.

WOODRUFF: Ken Robinson, who is our military intelligence analyst. Our coverage of the beheading, the murder of Paul Johnson continues. We will be right back.


WOODRUFF: We're following a terrible story, a breaking news this afternoon, and that is the murder, the savage murder in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, of American Paul Johnson.


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