- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

From combined dispatches

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia will not give in to al Qaeda’s demands to free jailed militants to secure the release of an American the group kidnapped last week, Saudi officials said yesterday.

Al Qaeda has threatened to kill engineer Paul Johnson, 49, unless Saudi authorities free the militants by tomorrow.

“There is no way they are going to agree to their demands,” said Nawaf Obaid, a senior Saudi security consultant.

Yesterday, Saudi security forces and police surrounded a house in the capital, but withdrew from the area hours later, witnesses said. It was not clear whether anyone was detained.

Security officials would not comment on the operation, which blocked off the entire district of Al-Badeaa for at least three hours while security forces closed in on the house.

Witnesses said they heard gunfire and the counterterrorism force use loudspeakers to urge those inside the house to surrender.

Meanwhile, Saudi government foreign affairs adviser Adel al-Jubeir told CNN that his government was looking into the situation arising out of Mr. Johnson’s kidnapping and consulting with the United States on what actions to take, although its history “has been one of not negotiating with terrorists.”

The threat to kill Mr. Johnson raised the stakes in al Qaeda’s war to topple the kingdom’s pro-U.S. monarchy and drive out Westerners from the world’s largest oil exporter.

On an Internet site, al Qaeda showed Mr. Johnson, kidnapped in the capital, Riyadh, on Saturday, blindfolded and sitting in a chair.

An accompanying statement on Tuesday said: “If the tyrants in the Saudi government want to secure the release of the American hostage, they must release our mujahideen held hostage in its jails. They have 72 hours from today or else we will sacrifice him.”

A U.S. State Department official said Washington would use every appropriate resource to gain Mr. Johnson’s safe release but would make no concessions to the kidnappers.

Mr. Johnson was the first Westerner kidnapped in a wave of militant attacks in the kingdom that began more than a year ago. Al Qaeda also claimed responsibility for killing American Kenneth Scroggs outside his villa last week.

Al Qaeda has promised that this will be a “bloody and miserable” year for the kingdom.

In Trenton, N.J., Mr. Johnson’s son Paul pleaded with the Saudi government to work to free his father, saying he “does not deserve this.”

The younger Mr. Johnson, also named Paul, made his plea on CNN, appearing with an aunt and with the 3-year-old grandson his father has never met.

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