Advertisement
News

No word on fate of missing U.S. worker

Saudi Arabian forces searched yesterday for a U.S. worker taken hostage by militants linked to al-Qaida, while 7,400 miles away in Port St. John, Fla., his son wanted someone to teach him how to pray.

The apparent kidnapping of former Brevard County resident Paul M. Johnson Jr., 49, so upset Johnson's 28-year-old son that he wanted to go find a church, even though he had never been in one.

Advertisement

"I want to go and ask someone to help me say some prayers," Paul Marshall Johnson III said yesterday, barely holding back tears as he sat on his front porch clutching his father's picture. "I just want my father to come home safe."

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin described the elder Johnson as an Orlando, Fla.-based field engineer with the company, though he has lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for about 12 years. He was believed kidnapped Saturday by the same group that claimed responsibility for fatally shooting another American, Kenneth Scroggs, on Saturday in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. It was the third killing of a Westerner in a week.

Advertisement

Yesterday crawled by for the younger Johnson as he waited for answers that never came amid conflicting reports of a body of a Western man possibly being found in Riyadh.

A statement purportedly by an al-Qaida-linked group claimed it would release a videotape with Johnson's confessions and its demands, but no video came out yesterday.

A day earlier, Johnson's picture and business card were posted on the Internet along with the terror group's claims of responsibility for the killing of Scroggs. The kidnappers also threatened to treat Johnson the way U.S. troops treated Iraqi prisoners, a reference to the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

A car belonging to Johnson was found Saturday near Imam University in Riyadh, security officials said.

Militant attacks against Westerners, government targets and economic interests in the Saudi kingdom have surged in the past two months, despite a high-profile campaign against terrorists that the kingdom began after suicide bombings last year. The kidnapping appeared to mark a new tactic in a campaign of violence believed to be aimed at sabotaging the vital Saudi oil sector.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Saudi Arabia is mobilizing all of its resources against al-Qaida-linked militants, but he added, "I think that there is more that they can do." The Saudis can "build up their forces" and cut off funding for militants, he said on Fox News Sunday. "There's probably more we can do with respect to intelligence exchange, and we are working at all of these."

Word of the kidnapping came hours after Scroggs was shot in the back as he parked in the garage at his home.

None of the gunmen has been caught in the fatal shooting June 6 of an Irish TV cameraman, Tuesday's killing of American contractor Robert Jacobs or Scrogg's killing. Jacobs, 62, of Murphysboro, Ill., worked for U.S. defense contractor Vinnell Corp. Scroggs worked for Advanced Electronics Co., a Saudi firm whose Web site lists Lockheed Martin among its customers.

Advertisement

The United States has urged all its citizens to leave the kingdom.

Johnson's son described his father as a man who liked his routine, which is part of the reason he didn't leave Saudi Arabia sooner, when things began getting rough.

"He's always been nervous about being there," the younger Johnson said, but he stayed because of the money. "But over the years of being there, you pump your gas at the same place. You get your coffee at the same place. You just get into routines, and I think that's just what happened to him."

The elder Johnson works on radar systems for the Apache helicopter. That may be part of why he was targeted.

The statement by the kidnappers, posted on an Islamic Web site, said Johnson was one of four experts in Saudi Arabia working on developing Apache helicopter systems and that the American killed, Scroggs, worked in the same industry.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Sentinel staff writers Susan Jacobson and Christopher Boyd, Sun staff writer Robert Little and the Associated Press contributed to this article.


Advertisement