Video: Hunt for terrorists

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/21/2004 10:31:34 AM ET 2004-06-21T14:31:34

A Saudi Arabian official said Monday that an al-Qaida Web site’s claim that members of the terrorist network received assistance from the kingdom’s security forces in the kidnapping of American Paul Johnson Jr. is almost certainly a lie, calling the possibility “very, very remote.”

Saudi foreign affairs adviser Adel al-Jubeir said on NBC’s “Today” show that al-Qaida-related Web sites have previously claimed to have support within the Saudi security forces in an effort to project strength.

“Of course it would be disturbing (if that was true), but we have seen no evidence to that effect,” he said.

Al-Jubeir was responding to a question about a claim on a Web site run by Islamic extremists  on Sunday that Saudi police sympathizers provided cars and uniforms so the militants could fake a roadblock and snare Johnson, the American defense worker whom al-Qaida claimed to have beheaded on Friday.

Saudi criticizes U.S. media
Al-Jubeir also criticized the American media for reporting messages posted on extremist Web sites.

“It is as if the information minister of Saddam Hussein, everything he said people would take as fact,” he said.

Video: More threats in Saudi Arabia He also shrugged off questions about why it took so long to find Abdulaziz al-Moqrin, the alleged ringleader of the terrorist cell blamed for Johnson’s murder as well as a number of deadly attacks against Western targets.

Al-Jubeir noted that the U.S. military has been hunting unsuccessfully for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi  in Iraq and has been unable to track down fugitive al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden for years.

He also said that Saudi authorities were continuing to hunt for Johnson’s body so that it can be returned to his grieving family.

Claim says militants posed as police
The Web site posted what it said was a statement by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula saying that Saudi security forces provided uniforms and police cars to militants who then set up a fake checkpoint to kidnap Johnson. The militants say they posed as police to stop Johnson’s car, anesthetized him and carried him to another car.

“A number of the cooperators who are sincere to their religion in the security apparatus donated those clothes and the police cars. We ask God to reward them and that they use their energy to serve Islam and the mujahedeen,” the article said.

A separate claim on the Web site attributed to al-Moqrin said Johnson was targeted because of his work on Apache attack helicopters for Lockheed Martin. Al-Moqrin and three other militants were killed Friday in a shootout with Saudi security forces after they apparently beheaded Johnson.

The others killed were identified as Faisal Abdul-Rahman al-Dikheel, Turki bin Fuheid al-Muteiry and Ibrahim bin Abdullah al-Dreiham. Al-Dikheel was believed to be the No. 2 al-Qaida militant in Saudi Arabia.

One security officer was killed and two were wounded in the gunbattle, the official Saudi news agency reported.

Police cars, armored vehicles and a large contingent of emergency forces blockaded the al-Malaz area of Riyadh Sunday in a search for suspects, security officials said. Witnesses saw suspects fleeing into a house in the neighborhood after police fired at them at a traffic light.

Blockade lifted after police fire on suspects
Hours later, the blockade was lifted and security forces left. It was unclear whether anyone was arrested.

On Sunday night, scores of Saudi men, mostly in their 20s and 30s, paid visits to the bullet-pocked gas station where al-Moqrin and the three others were killed.

“This should be turned into a national monument,” said Mohamed Ibrahim Shakir. “Every Saudi should come here and pray to God. We got rid of these terrorists.”

Ibrahim al-Shamari, who was tending the station, said the militant leader was shooting at security forces from behind a refrigerator when he was killed.

One security officer was killed and two were wounded in the shootout, the official Saudi news agency reported.

Al-Moqrin is believed to have had a leading role in the recent rise of militant violence in the kingdom. Dozens of people have been killed in a string of bombings and attacks targeting foreigners.

Saudi King Fahd said Sunday that militants would not succeed in their aim to harm the kingdom.

“We will not allow this destructive bunch, led by deviant thought, to harm the security of this nation or affect its stability,” he said in a speech to the advisory Shura Council.

Johnson was seized June 12, the same day Islamic militants shot and killed Kenneth Scroggs of Laconia, N.H., in his garage in Riyadh. Earlier that week, militants in the capital also shot and killed Irish cameraman Simon Cumbers, who was filming for the British Broadcasting Corp., and another American, Robert Jacobs, of Murphysboro, Ill.

Johnson’s captors said they would kill him on Friday unless Saudi Arabia released jailed al-Qaida militants.

Sunday’s al-Qaida article said the militants decided to behead Johnson when al-Jubeir, foreign affairs adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah in Washington, declared that Saudi Arabia would not negotiate with the kidnappers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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