Saturday, June 19, 2004

When news of the beheading of an American in Saudi Arabia by terrorists reached the nation yesterday, reactions were a mix of outrage and disgust.

Rick Warren, a 44-year-old appliance technician in Lexington, Ky., was driving home from work when he heard about the death of Paul M. Johnson Jr. on the radio.

“At first I was very depressed and hurt for his family, but then I got angry. Americans need to understand what is going on and unite in this effort to stop terrorism,” Mr. Warren said. “I don’t care if you are conservative, liberal, Democrat or Republican. The name-calling needs to stop, they need to stop calling the president a liar because it is emboldening these people and just making their resolve stronger and they think they are winning.

“It breaks my heart, this guy was not doing anything but working.”

Mr. Warren’s wife, Lori, said she was “repulsed” by the beheading of Mr. Johnson, an engineer, by Islamist terrorists.

“I now believe stronger than ever in the war on terrorism, because this wasn’t an attack on our military, but an absolute attack on America,” said Mrs. Warren, 41. “It has made me even more believing that the war on terrorism has to continue.”

Scott Reynolds, a 42-year-old electrical contractor from Windsor, Colo., called the beheading “cowardly.”

“I think they are backing off and attacking people who don’t shoot back,” Mr. Reynolds said. “I think we are doing the right thing and need to get a little more aggressive.”

Milt Shannon, a Vietnam veteran, said members of Dundalk American Legion Post No. 38 in Baltimore were uniformly “outraged” yesterday at the news of the beheading.

“I’m tired of all this squabbling between the left and the right, the Democrats and Republicans in this country. We need to unite, get strong … we are at war.”

Mr. Shannon said he would like to see a revival of the kind of national unity that was in place during World War II. If that doesn’t happen, he said, “They [terrorists] will be hitting our schools, bridges, highways” and other infrastructure with bombs and chemical and biological agents.

“Believe me. We will be hit again,” he said.

Stan Komen, a liquor store owner in Peoria, Ill., said he had not heard of the beheading of Mr. Johnson until a reporter called. “But I’m not surprised.”

He also said he was not surprised to learn that the suspects in the slaying are leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network in Saudi Arabia.

As for whether the gruesome beheading of another American in the Mideast strengthens his support for the war on terrorism, Mr. Komen said, “Al Qaeda seems to be the war on terror. If we deal with them, we deal with terrorism.”

At the same time, he said, the United States needs to find away to get out of Iraq “in some honorable fashion.”

The U.S. occupation of Iraq is “attracting every terrorist in the Mideast … that whole area will be a cauldron until America gets out,” said Mr. Komen. “The president must do whatever is necessary to defend the United States … al Qaeda is more of a threat than Iraq.”

At American Legion Post 108 in Cheverly, “everyone was rather solemn” at the news of the beheading, said bartender Brenda Callahan.

“They say everything is fair in love and war, but I can’t believe anyone would do that. One veteran said we should start” beheading the terrorists, Ms. Callahan said.

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