Shock and revulsion spread around the world Saturday over the beheading of an American hostage by an al-Qaida cell in Saudi Arabia.
The brutal killing of Paul M. Johnson Jr. and the display on the Internet of grisly photos of his body added to fears about a rising tide of anti-Western violence in the desert kingdom.
“These evil acts are not only aimed against the United States and the West, but also against Islam and humanity,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II told Jordan Radio. “I stand with Johnson’s family in such a difficult situation.”
Condemnations of the killing, reminiscent of American Nick Berg’s beheading in Iraq in May, came from Europe, Asia and across the Middle East.
In Syria, a longtime U.S. foe, Information Ministry official Ahmad Haj Ail called Johnson’s slaying “a horrible crime that is alien to the Arabs and Muslims.”
To prevent such violence from continuing, he said it was necessary to “search for the circumstances that have led to it and what leads to terrorism,” a possible reference to U.S. policy in the Middle East, blamed by many there for fueling Muslim extremism.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called Johnson’s murder “a barbaric act that is in no way justified.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, at a European Union summit in Brussels on Friday, expressed shock, saying “This shows the nature of the people we are fighting day in, day out, around the world.”
Italy’s leading daily Corriere della Sera ran a front-page editorial calling the killing “the apotheosis of the culture of death ... the most barbarous violation of the sacredness of life, the central point of our civilization.”
Many in Rome expressed rage and revulsion.
The terrorists “continue to show us just how uncivilized they are,” said Roberto Cipolla, an insurance agent. “The Americans have to stay in the Mideast to help the rest of the population, the civilians. Only then can we defeat the extremists.”
Campaign of violence
Johnson, an engineer, was the latest victim of an escalating campaign of violence against Westerners, aimed at driving foreign workers from Saudi Arabia and undermining the ruling royal family.
His kidnappers had said they would kill him if Saudi authorities did not release their al-Qaida prisoners.
Saudi newspapers had harsh words for the terrorist cell and hailed the government’s claim to have killed Abdulaziz al-Moqrin, the reputed leader of al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia, and three other militants. Authorities said the men were killed in a gunbattle after they dumped Johnson’s mutilated body.
“The head of terror falls before Johnson’s blood dries,” said a front-page headline in the Arabic daily Al-Watan.
In an editorial titled “Cheap Bargaining,” the daily Al-Yawm said the terrorists were “in deep seas of illusion” if they thought hostage-taking would help them achieve their goals.
“Their cowardly act, bargaining and manipulation is closer to piracy ... and they are disillusioned if they think they can embarrass the kingdom, making it release detained terrorists,” the paper said. “They forgot — or tried to — that cheap bargaining won’t soften the iron fist unleashed on them.”
French President Jacques Chirac said he was “horrified” by Johnson’s death, denouncing the act as inhuman and shameful. Such methods, he said “are at the complete opposite of everything we consider respectable as humans.”
President Bush, speaking in Fort Lewis, Wash., said the assailants were “trying to intimidate America” and would not succeed.